E.A. Sports Today

Fulfilling destiny

Faith Christian’s senior core has made progress every year since eighth grade, fulfill destiny of playing for a state title

Zana Christjohn (13), Nicole Frechette (2) and Abby Kazanjian (yellow jersey) are three of the Faith seniors who have been progressing toward the state finals since eighth grade. (Photos by Tony Bedford)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Faith Christian’s run for a state volleyball championship didn’t just start when the Lady Lions beat JCA on their way to a a second straight area tournament title last week. It didn’t even start when they won their first match of the year against Randolph County in their own season-opening tournament way back in August.

No, this road to Birmingham started five years during summer workouts when this year’s seniors were mere rising eighth-graders. They may have been young, but their expectations for the future were large. Even at that young age those watching them could see a big upside down the road.

The Lady Lions won only a handful of matches that season, but that didn’t dampen the expectations. Every year they would apply more lines to their dry-erase goal board in the locker room and every year they’d cross them off one at a time.

It has reached a point now there is no goal board anymore, just one goal:

Win the state championship.

The Lady Lions start that quest 2 p.m. Wednesday when they meet Westminster-Oak Mountain (for the second time this season) in the first round of the Class 1A Elite Eight at the Birmingham Crossplex. It’s a long way from the 6-27 they went through as eighth-graders with promise.

“I remember our goals started out small,” senior outside hitter Nicole Frechette said. “When we were in eighth grade I think it was just to go to regionals, win more games.

“Last year our goal was to go to state because we knew we had the skill and we knew we could. It didn’t end up happening, but this year I think we knew. We came in and we knew what we wanted to do.

“The progression itself is a great story because our eighth-grade year we won maybe three or four games that whole season, we got our butts kicked. It’s been just a gradual building of our ambition.”

The Lady Lions have pulled it off because that core group stayed together. Frechette, libero Abby Kazanjian, Emily Sills, Zana Christjohn and Sarah Kate McVeigh – and later joined by Erin Cheek – steadily progressed through that list of goals every year.

Go to the regionals. Win the area. Win a match in the regionals. Get to state. Check. Check. Check. And check.

“It’s like we’re erasing all the things that we’ve written on the board because we keep accomplishing them,” Kazanjian said.

“I do remember when we were younger we all were like we have a lot of potential to being really great,” Christjohn said. “We have so long to go, we have all these years ahead of us we can really grow and become a team that’s going to be remembered as winning something really big.

“I think if you don’t want to win state why are you even playing a sport, so it’s always been a goal? We’ve all had in our mind at least by our junior or senior year we’re going to go to state and I think this is the year that it all came together. It’s kind of that dream becoming realized. It feels amazing to be able to finally get to prove ourselves to everyone that we deserve to be there.”

They’ve maintained that progression through a coaching change. Their escalation started with Bradley Dawson as head coach and progressed the last two years with Justin Kisor.

Kisor admitted he didn’t know what the Lady Lions had when he took the job in late spring 2017, but he sensed something special when he finally saw them together on the floor. He wasn’t concerned about anything that happened in the past, his focus was forward.

“When I got here I asked a teacher I knew how they were going to be and the reply was ‘they should be pretty decent,’” Kisor recalled. “I was like decent to be able to compete or what.

“I didn’t know what we had. My first thought was ‘Dang, we’re really freaking good.’ I told my buddy we can be really good if they buy in. I didn’t know anything about what they did the year before, I didn’t care what they did the year before, I just wanted to build on what I knew we had, and what I saw I knew if I could get them to play their hardest we’d be OK.”

The Lady Lions won 30 matches last year, won the area and went to the regionals, where they beat Tharptown and took the first set from Athens Bible in the match to qualify for Birmingham. Donoho had long been the top dog in their area, but when they beat the Lady Falcons in their first meeting under Kisor – and haven’t lost to them since – the message was sent.

“I told them ‘today is the day we take over the area,’” Kisor said. “Today’s the day we make a point and we beat them 2-0.

“They were all crying at the end of the year. My thing last year was if I’d have told you we’re going to make it to one game before making the state, you were going to beat Jacksonville and make it to the (county tournament) semifinal, were going to win the area and drop but one set all year, and beat Donoho four times would you have believed it? They said no, so we’re where we need to be.

“Sometimes you have those expectations you want to do something (but), you’ve got to have a vision for it. Part of having a vision is knowing you can get there.”

PROGRESSION OF FAITH
Here is a quick look at the progression the career of this year’s Faith Christian seniors
2014 – 6-27
2015 – 12-12, area runnerup, lost first round regionals
2016 – 21-12, lost first round area
2017 – 31-9, area champs, lost second round regionals (beat Tharptown 3-0, lost to Athens Bible 3-1)
2018 – 32-11, county runnerups, area champs, 3-1 in regionals, Elite Eight

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