When West Plains High School was formed earlier in the year, it resulted in a chunk of the Randall volleyball team switching schools. Add in 11 seniors graduating and the result was Randall entering the summer with just 10 players on the roster and one returning starter from the year before.
So, how was head coach Haleigh Burns feeling then?
“It was really scary," she said with a laugh. "There was a lot of unknown at the beginning of the season."
The Lady Raiders had to drop down from 5A to 4A and joined a district that included Hereford, West Plains and Pampa. Their libero, Tatum Brandt, was coming off a junior year she missed due to a knee injury. Their setter, Sidney Soria, hadn't played any meaningful time on varsity and there were three seniors on the roster.
Needless to say, the expectations weren't what they usually were for Randall heading into the season.
All summer long, Burns looked to her assistant coaches and said the same thing: "Just imagine how sweet it’s going to be when we win a state title with these kids who have bought in and been doubted."
They don't have to imagine anymore.
Burns led a young and inexperienced roster to an undefeated run in district where they swept all but one opponent. The Lady Raiders went on to win the second volleyball state championship in school history and first since 2009.
For guiding Randall through so much adversity, and onto the championship podium, Haleigh Burns is the Amarillo Globe-News Volleyball Coach of the Year.
"I just give all the credit to my kids for getting me into a position like this,” she said. “I owe it to my kids and my coaching staff, the people I work with at Randall and Canyon ISD. It’s been a great journey.”
Burns already said things were scary earlier in the year. She mentioned after the state title game that her nerves began to ease after summer league play.
So, what changed at that point to calm her down?
“I watched them play with this level of intensity and trust," Burns said. "They had so much fun on the court with each other which was a big difference between us and a lot of other teams. … When things got tough, there wasn’t a divide or anything, they just found a way to band together and do things the right way.”
There were challenges, no doubt.
Though the Lady Raiders started the year 7-1, they proceeded to drop three straight matches and were sitting at 14-8 in late August. Randall didn't lose again the rest of the season, however, as Burns believes her team used that early adversity to its advantage.
"We knew we were going to have to play some tougher teams and take some lumps along the way," she said. "We lost some tough games. We played one of our worst games against Lubbock-Cooper, lost a tough one to Amarillo High, a tough one to Bushland, some big 5A teams. My kids got to learn from that and be better because of those games.”
The future remains bright for Randall.
Soria, an AGN Super Team selection, and Gove, the AGN MVP, will both return for more next season along with Brooke Henderson and others.
For Burns, though, there won't ever be anything quite like winning it this year with the crew she did.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of my kids," she said. "I’ve dreamed of being in that position and seeing kids in that position. … This group of kids has been through a lot. They looked adversity in the face and just kept pushing through. To win it with this group was really special.”
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Randall's Haleigh Burns is AGN volleyball Coach of the Year