BAKER — It’s a question that the Baker School volleyball team hears every year.
“Can you keep the streak alive?”
The Gators are actually riding three streaks as they head into Tuesday’s season opener at Laurel Hill.
Baker has been to the state final four three straight years. They have won 11 consecutive district championships and have made the playoffs for the last 21 years.
Keeping the traditions alive can weigh heavily on any team, but even more so with a team that has but one senior.
Gator Coach Tommiko Parks thinks the team will be up for the challenge.
“The girls are ready to play and they understand there is pressure on them,” she said. “When you lose that many seniors (six) it’s hard when you have to regroup and put people in new spots. The girls understand how much pressure there is on them and they are ready for it.
“They are striving to be the team that keeps the streak going. They don’t want to be the team that loses the streak.”
Hartley Moate, the lone senior, is surrounded by juniors and sophomores and she admits to feeling the burden of leadership at times.
“It feels kind of strange being the only one in my class and having the younger ones as my teammates now,” she said. “I have to make sure the younger people come up and be strong. I have to teach them by myself and to make sure they are motivated to do well.”
While Moate is the only senior she’ll get help with the leadership from a deep junior class.
“The junior class is a strong class,” Parks said. “They have more experience than a lot of junior classes around. Ashley Black played last year as a sophomore. Lena Daoud started last year at setter and she moves to libero this year, and Brittany Brunson started last year on the outside.
“We’ve got some girls that have some experience. They weren’t so much leaned upon to be the leaders of the team the last couple of years because we’ve had so many seniors, but they are stepping up. They are doing what they have to do.”
Parks said the sophomore class is equally impressive, having already played a lot of volleyball with some dynamic leaders.
Daoud said it’s easy for the Gators to remain motivated.
“The motivation for us is to keep it (the championship streak) going,” she said. “We don’t want to be the ones that fail and let down everybody.
“At different levels it’s very difficult replacing the last year’s seniors because all of them had great strengths. But I think we are doing a pretty good job replacing their strengths.”
Junior hitter Brittany Brunson believes the Gators will be successful if they focus on the small things.
“I think the most important thing we need to do is work as a team and communicate more than we have been doing,” she said. “Most of us are pretty good friends outside of volleyball so we have kind of just come together more.”
Brunson believes it’s important for this year’s team to remember the lessons they’ve learned from past championship squads.
“You've got to work hard, for sure,” she said. “And the state tournament is just another game that you have to play through one at a time."