Teammates spend so much time together pursuing a common goal that a genuine closeness can build between groups of athletes that can last a lifetime.
Still, after practice is over, most high school athletes head home to be with their parents, guardians, brothers and sisters.
It’s something of a cliché that sports teams are like a family. A lot of times, it’s an analogy by coaches to entice teammates to trust each other and want to play well for each other.
But there are occasions when the word “family” takes on bigger meaning. Teammates become more than friends with common interests. They share more than just a uniform.
When Shadle Park volleyball star Teagan Webster needed her teammates – some of whom she’s known since middle school and even earlier – they were there for her, every step of the way.
Because that’s what families do.
On Aug. 19, 2019, Teagan’s father, Chad Webster, took his life. The details of the incident aren’t necessary to understand the grief and pain Teagan, her brother Ryder, and mother Nichole went through.
Almost immediately, Webster’s teammates rallied around the then-sophomore. Soon after, they were back on the court. Routine is a natural response to something so shocking, disruptive and painful.
“I got to be around my teammates and people who loved me and supported me and it really helped me get through certain things,” Webster said.
Chloe Flerchinger and Ema Green were closest to Webster when it happened.
“We were there with her on that day,” Flerchinger said, “We were being there for her nonstop. Having to see Teagan go through all of that was brutal for all of us. But Teagan is one of the strongest people I know. … She was just so good at hiding her emotions, and then would come out to me and Ema all the time.”
Green said she’s been “best friends” with Webster since kindergarten.
“We’ve grown up together,” she said. “I’ve literally spent weeks at her house at a time. I went through that whole summer that happened with her and her dad.
“It was a hard couple of months.”
Mae’Saiah Sorokin was another one of the then-sophomores on varsity to help Webster work through the ordeal.
“It was hard for all of us. Just that whole week,” Sorokin said. “The next week … she’s so strong. She came to volleyball like two days after. She had driver’s ed (the next week). It’s just like, yeah, she was strong. We were all strong for her, too.”
“We’ve been together since like seventh grade playing volleyball all through the years together and they’re really supportive,” Webster said.
“We genuinely are a family,” Flerchinger said.
“I definitely think it brought us closer too, because we could see her pain. She could see our pain,” Sorokin said.
There are nine seniors on the Highlanders’ roster, with four of them varsity players since that fateful sophomore season.
Shadle Park coach Brooke Meyer is proud of the way her team rallied around one of their own. She believes the aspect of them getting back on the court so soon after helped them process everything.
“Since they went through that, they know they can get through anything together,” she said. “They rely on that strength and that bond that they have within each other.”
Sorokin said it was a period of growth for everyone on the team and that they learned something important about each other.
“This team knows that it’s OK not to be OK,” she said. “And if you’re not OK, this team, especially, will bring you up and we’ll be there for you, no matter what.”
“The strength in that girl is absolutely insane,” Flerchinger said of Webster. “But when she was vulnerable, we helped pick her up back to that strength and we let her know that it’s OK to be vulnerable sometimes.”
Last year’s COVID-shortened added extra strain on everyone.
“When we couldn’t play last fall, we were really nervous about if we would even get a chance to touch the ball,” Meyer said. “I think that’s what drove them last season, because they didn’t know when it was gonna be taken away again and they didn’t want that. So they really played hard and fought for every single point.”
They are all happy to get a “real” season this fall with a chance for the playoffs and perhaps state.
Webster is especially happy.
“I don’t want to have one thing define me,” she said. “I want to persevere through it, and be able to keep … my dad would have wanted me to keep going and he was very supportive of me, so I wanted to keep pushing through that.”
“I kept waiting for this girl to come in with, you know, her head down, tears in her eyes,” Meyer said. “I kept waiting for that and she just never showed any anything but strength. She was just always there for her team, and we couldn’t help but wrap her tightly in our arms and just help her through every single step of it. But she led the way with that.”
The Highlanders (3-5, 2-1) entered their Greater Spokane League 2A showdown against Pullman on Tuesday undefeated in league, but the Greyhounds (6-4, 3-0) got the better of them, with Webster a bit under the weather and another senior, Bailee Jones, unavailable.
“We can do a lot more than we showed (Tuesday),” Meyer said.
“We’re really pushing each other this year and it’s going really well,” Webster said.
“I feel really, really good, especially since last year we didn’t have our students (in the stands). This year we have our students back, and we have a full opportunity to go to state so it’s really cool.”
“It’s something to look forward to, because we didn’t have state last year,” Green said.
“They have it within themselves,” Meyer said. “They are a resilient group and they will, by the end of the year, fight hard for each other. They want it really bad and they believe in each other, through and through, because of everything that they’ve been through.”
“We are fighting,” Sorokin said. “It’s showing that we’re fighting. It’s our senior year and we’ve been through so much we want to end with a bang, for sure.”
Regardless of how things end on the court, Webster wants her teammates to know what they mean to her.
“I just want to thank them for always supporting me, being there for me, pushing me to be my best – even when I was at my worst,” she said. “I just, I really love all of them and I’m really happy that I get to finish senior year with them.”
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