For Heritage Christian Academy head coach Grace Waldron, it almost felt like 2011 all over again.
The former KCAA Ms. Volleyball added a third state championship to her resume as a Lady Warrior this past weekend but this time around as the head coach.
It wasn’t just the run in the state tournament that gave Waldron a case of deja vu — she saw it throughout the year.
Both the 2011 version of the Lady Warriors and the 2021 edition finished the regular season undefeated, had all the pressure on them going into the state tournament and managed to push through the en route to a state title.
Waldron leaned on her state championship experience this season as the coach and helped her Lady Warrior team fight through just like her team did a decade ago.
“I saw a lot of similarities,” she said. “Back when I was playing, KCAA play was most of the time was us rolling through those KCAA teams. It felt the same way this year. We went into the tournament the same way we did (in 2011) being undefeated.
“I think what helped was me knowing what they were going through. The pressure of coming in as that top seed and being undefeated. I was trying to coach them through what I felt as a player. Making sure they were taking it five points at a time, breaking it down and not counting any games out. Any team can win or lose a game.”
Even in the tournament, it was much of the same.
HCA in 2011 swept all but two teams in the regular season and when facing a huge test in the tournament the Lady Warriors prevailed.
On two occasions this past weekend’s HCA was pushed to the brink by the same team in Community Christian.
Both times the Lady Warriors dropped the second set then found a way to win.
Waldron said personnel was a big part in CCA’s ability to compete with her team. However, she attributes the Lady Warriors’ contests in the KHSAA played a huge part in why they were able to walk out of the KCAA state tournament as champions.
“That was the only team in the KCAA that had what I call a killer,” Waldron said. “There are a lot of teams that have hitters but I think our team and theirs were the only ones that had a killer. Someone that you know that can just put the ball away every time and could block.
“I think that threw us off to begin with. We weren’t used to that in the KCAA. Where we were able to come out of the other side was when we faced public school teams. We aren’t always the biggest or the baddest but we know how to defend against it.”
The second-year coach added the moment the final point was scored a very similar the 2011 moment.
“It literally felt the exact same as when I was playing,” she said. “It’s that same connection you have with those girls. The only difference was I was just so proud of them.
You’re just so proud and happy to see them accomplish their goal. Seeing them so excited makes me happy.”
Waldron said she never would’ve been where she was without the late Eldridge Rogers.
Rogers coached the 2011 state championship team and she said it means a lot to bring back a championship to HCA in honor of the longtime coach.
“It meant a lot because coach Rogers got me into playing and he taught me to love the game as a player and also transitioned me into being a coach,” Waldron said. “It meant a lot to bring a championship back home and do it for the girls in honor of him because they had him as a coach as well.”
With not playing in the state tournament last year, Waldron said it made them want this championship more and she was happy to see her senior class walk out as state champions.
“We all worked hard to get it the last couple of years,” Waldron said. “When we didn’t even get to finish the season out last year, it was heartbreaking.
“Watching them be so upset I think really motivated us to put in the work and do whatever it took to get that title. I haven’t seen them show that much emotion. This whole tournament you could see it all building up. To see it all come to fruition was incredible.”
Waldron and the Lady Warriors will get to celebrate another state title but the focus for Waldron has shifted toward a repeat in 2022.