Eli Ruiz | Democrat
It was a special day all the way around for the Liberty girls’ volleyball team and coach Kort Wheeler. Dressed in pink to help support breast cancer awareness, the exuberant Lady Indians also notched their first victory of the year in their final match.
Liberty gets spike from amazing day
Story by Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY October 25, 2013 The evening's noble cause was worth far more than the result of Tuesday's Sullivan West-Liberty volleyball match, though the actual competition turned into a real jewel as well.
The cause was breast cancer, and it was two Liberty seniors who spearheaded the idea for the entire squad to wear pink t-shirts as a reminder to the decidedly vocal and supportive crowd of more than 100 from both Sullivan West and the homestanding Indians.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is the second leading cause of death among women. Each year it is estimated that over 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die.
Although breast cancer in men is rare, an estimated 2,150 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 410 will die each year. And in a true case of serendipity mixed with irony, it just so happened that the very man who drove the Lady Bulldogs of Sullivan- West to their season ending match is a breast cancer survivor himself. Back in December of 2009, Emmet Fulton of Bethel was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After more than a two-year battle against the insidious disease, the day before Thanksgiving of last year, Fulton got the news that he was in remission; "the cancer was no longer detectable," he says, adding, "talk about Thanksgiving."
On Tuesday, Fulton was just doing his job; having no clue that the evening's match was dedicated to raising money to fight the very disease he himself fought and beat. "I didn't have a clue what was going on there. I walked in and was shocked. I started crying."
Asked what the evening meant to him, Fulton said, "Oh boy, the world. It was the greatest surprise and feeling just being there. I spoke to one of the parents there and she told me how her daughter and a girl named Tea were the ones who put on the fundraiser. I think that's amazing! I truly can't believe how kids these days are getting so involved. I actually spoke to the girls and I cried again."
“The girls" Fulton referenced are Liberty senior captains Tea Williams and Ali Budd. The pair were instrumental in organizing Tuesday's fundraiser.
"Well, we're the captains this year so we decided to put this all together,” said Williams before her final high school match. “Last season, our captain did the same thing and so we just wanted to keep it going and carry on the tradition. Hopefully it will get picked up again next season.”
A similarly-minded Budd said, "Yes we just wanted to carry it on from last year. It's something that, even though Tea and I haven't been touched by the disease in any way ourselves, it's very important to us. We wanted to keep it going in our last year."
As far as the action: It was pink hot, as an Indians squad that hasn't been able to pull together a win in 13 matches this season came out ready for battle in their very last match of the season.
Liberty dominated early in the best-of-five match taking the first game 25-11, at one point holding a 20-5 lead. Sullivan West woke up for the second game, leading 12-9 at mid-game, but Liberty went back on the attack behind its two captains and took the game 25-22 and a commanding 2-0 lead. But the young Bulldog squad, which also hasn’t had much success this year, showed their mettle in the next two games, taking both 25-18, 25-23.
Fittingly, both team’s best play was reserved for the deciding fifth game.
It was back and forth for much of the early parts of the final game and the teams were deadlocked at 4-4. Liberty went up 6-4 on an impressive service from Crystal Torres. An overpowering spike from Williams gave Liberty an 11-10 edge. The Indians surged to a 15-10 lead behind Torres and Shivani Patel who had 21 assists on the night.
Sullivan West chipped away at the Indian lead, but Liberty was aggressive and another big spike, this time from Budd, put her squad up 20-16 late. The teams then went back and forth with Sullivan-West drawing even at 22 and eventually go up 24-23.
But a few errant hits into the net give Liberty a 25-24 lead, and an ace from Torres sealed the deal for an ecstatic Indian team which savored the taste of its first victory.
"This just feels amazing," said Williams. “Especially for this to be mine and Ali's last one. I just cannot explain how good this feels. I could not be more proud of my teammates and I think this one single win just shows how hard we've worked and how far we've come.”
After sharing some tears of joy with her teammates, Budd was reflective, "It's really bittersweet," she said. "I grew up on this team and with her [Williams]. Now I have to say goodbye . The whole team is just so close to my heart so it's sad to say goodbye, but I'm happy we went out with a win."
As for Indians' head coach Kort Wheeler, he was emotional, offering, "Oh my gosh, Sullivan West was very consistent tonight. One of the very best scrambling teams we've played. It felt amazing. We don't have a big squad but they put their heart in it. I've coached adults before, but this is the first time for me with kids and they were just great all season in a difficult season.
For them to win tonight like this, and for the first time all season was just amazing, especially for our seniors. They take real pride in this game. It was just phenomenal to watch them and to be a part of this."