BEHS volleyball team looking to 'get back on top, start over and win'
What do the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, UCLA’s basketball Bruins and the Bishop England volleyball team have in common?
Each team has dynastic runs in its illustrious history. And, more importantly, the super humans who played on those teams had moments when they proved to be mere mortals, actually losing in the championship game.
That includes Bishop England coach Cindy Baggott’s team, which had its incredible run of 18 consecutive state championships come to an end last fall when Powdersville finally dethroned the Bishops in the Class AAA state championship. The 18 straight titles are a National Federation of High Schools record as is the Bishops’ 28 state titles overall in the sport. The Bishops earned their first state crown in 1977.
Baggott knows nothing lasts forever, and that included the Bishops’ magnificent streak.
“I was in shock,” said Baggott, who is her 13th year as head coach of the Bishops. “I was surprised the streak went on as long as it did.”
“But it does still hurt,” she added. “It does take the pressure off this team. Now the pressure is to get back on top, to start over and win this year.”
The Bishops are young and have a demanding schedule. The roster includes four seniors, one junior, seven sophomores and two freshmen. The schedule includes the Porter-Gaud Invitational (Aug. 30-31), The Tournament of Champions, hosted by Dorman (Sept. 13-14), The (Lexington) Wildcat Invitational (Sept. 28) and the Wando Invitational (Oct. 11-12).
The team has benefitted from energetic practice and drills, but Baggott points out that once her players step out on the court, that is the true test. The sophomores saw playing time last fall and are more experienced than their age would indicate.
Leah Zimlich, one of the talented sophomores, is the team’s setter. She’s played at the club level for Baggott’s team, which plays at the national level.
Senior Shawna Swanson is the team’s leader.
“She’s our motivator,” Baggott said. “We look for her to carry us emotionally.”
Another key player is senior Madison Lawless, a middle hitter.
While the Bishops have young players, the thing that jumps out at you watching them play is the team’s collective height.
“We have four players who are 6 feet tall and the rest are pushing,” Baggott said. “I haven’t had this type of height in my career. We have lots of size. Size is something you can’t teach.”
Baggott expects Powdersville to be a big obstacle in the Bishops’ attempt to reach the top of the volleyball summit.
“They beat us last year and almost beat us the year before in that knock-down-drag-out (five-set) match.”
That was in the 2017 state championship, which arguably was toughest and most satisfying state title. The Bishops lost the first two sets of the match, but rallied to win the last three to gain their 18th consecutive title.
Baggott says Gilbert will present a formidable challenge, while Academic Magnet will be the biggest challenger for the region crown.