For Dorman volleyball, an act of vandalism is a time-honored tradition.
Teams celebrate state championships in a lot of different ways. The Cavaliers toilet paper head coach Paula Kirkland’s house. They’ve done it since 1990. And they’ve done it 15 times now.
“It started after the very first one,” Kirkland said with a laugh. “We kept doing it because we won three in a row back then, so it was still fresh on everybody’s mind. It just kind of caught on after that.”
November after November, Kirkland’s yard, trees, and house are unceremoniously decorated. But she never minds it. That’s because the vandalism ONLY accompanies a state championship win.
It started as a prank. Now it’s a rite of passage.
Take this year, for example. Ramsey Larke Chastain is Dorman’s setter, and was eager to participate in the tradition. Her mother, Dorman assistant Stephanie Chastain, was also a title-winner in the Cavaliers program. She said the chance to watch her daughter develop the bonds that the program demands is special.
“As far as the traditions that Dorman holds near and dear, having her go through the same things that I went through is amazing to watch,” Stephanie said. “Some people might think they’re silly, but they’re the reason we have been able to win at the level we have – because we know what’s expected of us. Plus, we understand the rewards. Everyone was overly-excited to TP Kirk’s house this time, since it’s been a few years. We had a large group of newbies and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Not many people can say they’ve done something so scandalous.”
Dorman’s push for another state volleyball title – and the chance at some mischief – got a boost in the unlikeliest of places.
The Cavaliers went 2-5 over two days at a prestigious tournament in Arizona. Those five losses more than doubled what they lost the rest of the year. Ryleigh Willard rolled her ankle in the Tournament of Champions at Dorman. Chastain suffered a concussion and missed extended time.
And the Cavaliers somehow got better.
“We had to have others step up, and they did,” Kirkland said. “We’re missing our setter, and to use a football analogy, you don’t just replace your quarterback very easily. But we went to a 6-2, with Sara Mitchell and Hannah Ryan. They stepped in and led the way, and we were able to clinch the region title.
Then they got ready for the stretch run.
“We got everybody back toward the end, and by the time we got to the playoffs we were in full form, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Dorman’s full form was, as it often is, on a different volleyball planet than everyone else.
“Carly O’Brien plays out of her mind all the time,” Kirkland said. “Kayla O’Brien did a great job on the back row. Ramsey’s awesome at setter. And Katie Camp, once we got to Arizona, it seemed like a switch flipped. She started playing the way we thought she could. She put it all together, and that was really a turning point.”
They also got Reese Shugart back from a shoulder injury.
“She’s a 6-1 sophomore who can jump out of the gym, and we didn’t have her for a while,” Kirkland said. “She definitely makes a difference.”
Everybody does, for Dorman. Especially the name at the top, though Kirkland doesn’t want the credit.
“I get way too much credit all the time,” she said. “It’s not me. Stephanie’s been with us. She played here, coached, left, and came back. She’s a huge part of her success. Natalie Boyd is a former player who’s coaching for us. Erin America is back, her daughters are in the program, and they’ll be fun to watch. Amy Bomar is a former coach at Converse College, and she’s been an excellent addition to our staff. It’s so much more fun when everybody’s on board and when everybody’s contributing.”
One of those assistants who’s contributing is Drew Copeland. He still helps Kirkland’s program some, but he’s got his hands full.
His Cavaliers boys team just won a state title of their own, the first 5A SCHSL-sanctioned title.
“I just think it’s great,” Kirkland said. “In the first year of boys volleyball, we struggled to get people out. But the next year, Drew agreed to coach. That’s a huge plus, and he’s dedicated and committed to building it the way it needs to be done. He’s managed to get guys in who play other sports – baseball players, basketball players. Jamarcus Williams helped us win an unofficial title last year.”
Kirkland loves to see the explosion of popularity with boys volleyball in the area, from club to travel teams to high schools, and she’s delighted for Copeland and the Dorman boys.
“I’m proud of him, and proud of everybody involved,” she said. “And I’m glad so many went to bat for the sport. Quite frankly, Dr. Owings (former District Six Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings) needs a ton of credit for getting the sport sanctioned. He was a champion for boys volleyball.”
A Familiar Formula
With a boys title in the books, Dorman turned its attention to the girls match, where Kirkland squared off once again with Wando’s Alexis Glover, a dear friend and the only other coach in South Carolina history on Kirkland’s level as a winner.
“I just love being down there (at the state championships) with her,” Kirkland said. “She’s such a good friend of mine, and someone I respect and care for so much. I know her teams want to win just as bad as we do. I felt the pain they had to feel, because we’ve been there. It’s not fun, and I don’t wish it on anybody. There’s just a mutual respect there, and a high regard for the other’s program.”
There’s also a deep commitment to the program that the two share, and why Kirkland thinks Dorman and Wando have both been so successful through the years.
“I think we both really commit ourselves to the culture of our programs,” she said. “Building it that way, to me, is how you’re successful. We don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about championships, but about playing Dorman volleyball. We talk about the way we play, the manner we play in, playing with class, playing hard, touching every ball, never quitting. When you play that way all the time, have those expectations on and off the court all the time, the culture just takes over. Now, you’ve got to have talented players. We’ve been blessed with super talented players. But when you have that talent and culture, it’s a really good formula.”
It’s also why former players like Chastain, who have a long family history of Dorman volleyball, choose to come back to be a part of the program. And it’s how special moments like the one she was able to share with her daughter are made.
“Winning a state championship with the coach who I won with, working on the staff as a coach, and also having my daughter on the team was one of the most exciting things that’s happened in my volleyball career,” Stephanie said. “Paula is a huge reason that I coach. Having the ability to coach for her and being able to show Ramsey Larke the volleyball, culture, and traditions at Dorman has been irreplaceable.”