The Battleground Academy Wildcats volleyball program has a mantra the team recites before taking the court.
It reads: “I train to be better. I hustle to be faster. I communicate to be smarter. I show up to be stronger. We are fierce. We are capable. We are Wildcats and we play to win.”
BGA lived up to that mantra in the regular season. The team finished 12-0, and defeated Franklin Road Academy 3-1 Thursday night to capture their fourth Division II-A District 3 Middle Region championship in five seasons under head coach Tatiana Alvarez.
“It just kind of gets us hyped, focused and excited,” said Alvarez of the manta, who started it back in 2017 with her seniors. “It reminds us of our values…but, beyond that, it's more of a representation of the hard work that we put in. It's a representation of us as BGA athletes, as volleyball players and as young women in the game.”
The youth on the roster really stepped up during the regular season for BGA with sophomores Isabelle Northam and Gillian Baisden earning first team-all district honors. The youngsters provided a great complement to seniors, second team all- district performer Ally Newkirk and Christine Jewell, who won district MVP.
Jewell, who serves as team captain for the second straight season, really stepped up as a leader throughout that time, but this season she really excelled. Alvarez noted that she hit between .250 and .300 from her outside hitter spot consistently in matches this season, and her digs, service line play and attack game proved crucial as well.
“She has been just a great source of constant motivation, inspiration and positivity and the kids really look up to her,” Alvarez said. “On top of the fact that her skills have been amazing and she's just been very solid.”
Alverez also praised fellow senior Newkirk for her ability to attack on offense whether she is setting her teammates up as a setter, or getting aces from the service line. She also called Newkirk one of the smartest players she's ever had in the program.
Newkirk had 14 assists in the Wildcats’ district final victory on Thursday.
In just her second season, Baisden drew praise for her consistency, her ability in the attack game and her lack of errors. The young middle blocker led the team with 17 kills in the district final.
Her fellow sophomore, Isabelle Northam, is the team’s libero. She became a big part of the Wildcats run to the title in 2020.
“I think anybody who plays us it's just immediately kind of in awe of her,” Alverez said. “She covers so much ground, and touches the ball a lot. She is an incredible source of our success…another really exciting look into the future of BGA volleyball.”
The Wildcats put together undefeated regular season, and Thursday’s match marked just the third time they lost a set. The other two came in September, when Nashville Christian High School and Christ Presbyterian Academy pushed them to five sets.
Alverez believes games like these well serve as important experiences as the team advances in the postseason.
“They are crucial,” she said Monday before the district quarterfinals. “Especially, as we work to get out of our district and prepare for region play. The competition in region definitely levels up, in comparison to what we are facing in our district. It's definitely important to be challenged in that way.”
BGA will host the Middle Region quarterfinal on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
Like all high school teams in Williamson County and teams nationwide the Wildcats dealt with, and continue to deal with, COVID-19. In fact, the district title game was the first time the Wildcats and Panthers played this season. Their back-to-back matches in September were canceled out of caution due to COVID.
Alvarez said she's really proud of the way her team handled everything in this shortened season, and it goes back to their values and culture she and the players established this season and over the last five years.
“What I've noticed is that with the culture that we've kind of laid down and established over the last few years how it has really propelled us forward so that, in such a short season, we don't have to worry so much about the kinks of getting these kids to love each other and trust each other," she said.
“They support each other in the strife, the struggle, the exhaustion in the victory as well, so I think that has had a huge impact on us this year.”