In August, the Iowa City (Iowa) West High volleyball team thought it was embarking on a traditional season. Less than a month later, everything had changed.
First, rising senior star Caroline Found died after crashing her moped on Aug. 11. Less than two weeks later, her mother, Ellen Found, passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Immediately after the Found family's dual tragedies, the team dedicated its entire season to their memories, and put an additional emphasis on earning a state title in 2011, not any later.
"Three weeks into the season, the second week of September, we said, 'guys, we gotta do it now," Iowa City West volleyball coach Kathy Bresnahan told Iowa City ABC affiliate KCRG. "Other teams, as much as they've been supporting us, we're not going to get the pity vote."
Three months after being overwhelmed with those tragedies, Iowa City West didn't need any pity votes after wrapping up the state crown with a 23-25, 27-29, 25-16, 25-15, 18-16 victory against crosstown rival Iowa City (Iowa) High.
As soon as they were handed the trophy, West players held it aloft directly next to a framed portrait of the younger Found, with the word "Get it Now!" scrawled across it.
The victory officially earned a second consecutive state title for Iowa City West, both of which were inspired by Found's presence, one in person and one in spirit.
After the title match, Iowa City West's star outside hitter Shelly Stumpff insisted her team received an extra boost from Found's silent presence; "I could really feel her presence out there," Stumpff told the Des Moines Register. Perhaps more notably, Iowa City High refused to argue with the final result, or the notion that whoever won, the match was always going to be remembered for the one player who wasn't there.
"She was everybody's friend," Iowa City High star Rachel Rinehart told the Register. "We were all together at the funeral.
"It just shows we have a really strong volleyball community. Two schools from the same city playing for the state championship? I've never heard of that happening."
Thanks to a memorable final and a season-long dedication, few in the Iowa City volleyball community will ever forget Found, either.
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