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Lincoln volleyball players honored after pandemic season

Lincoln's Brittany Swain

Brittany Swain (14) and the Lady Golden Bears won 36 matches last season.

Coach Patty Hansen tried to hide her stress over ever-changing COVID-19 protocols when the season began, but her players noticed. 

Despite only having about two weeks behind them, the players got together and decided to repay their coach for all the hard work she’d already put in to get them to this moment on the first day of the season.

Lincoln’s players called Hansen into one of the teacher’s rooms at school and gave the coach what she called a “cheer-up basket” filled with small gifts.

“It was just a heartfelt moment,” Lincoln senior Brittany Swain said. “I feel like it was an amazing way to start the season because it was really a team-bonding experience. … it meant a lot.”

Her players weren’t the only ones to take note of Hansen’s hard work. After guiding Lincoln to the playoffs, Hansen was named the Talladega County Coach of the Year (Class 4A-5A).

“I was honored,” Hansen said. “I feel blessed. I love coaching. I love being with these girls. ... Anything I’m given is because of them.”

Her players received plenty of recognition as well. Swain shared Player of the Year (4A-5A) honors with fellow senior Bailey Gowers, while four of their teammates, including Kinsey Smith, Jaycee Woods, McKynlee Young and Maddie Barnhart, found spots on the all-county first team. Haylee Grace Mullinax, Emma Hobbs and Karson Ruggs all received second-team honors.

“I was really blessed to be able to get that,” Gowers said. “We worked hard. … I never would have thought that I would have got that. I’m just really thankful for the opportunity and even the ability to play volleyball.”

Gowers said she was especially pleased to share the award with her teammate after a knee injury sidelined Swain during the second set of Lincoln’s 3-0 loss to Boaz in the first round of the playoffs.

“I was just so happy for her because I know that made her feel better because she thought she let us down in the first round getting hurt and all,” Gowers said of Swain. “But she really gave everything she had for that team.”

With the threat of COVID-19 hanging over the team, Swain said she approached every practice and game mindful that this could be the day her volleyball career at Lincoln ended.

Of course, that preparation didn’t make the moment it came any easier for Lincoln’s middle hitter.

“I felt more emotional pain than I did physical pain,” Swain said of her injury, which later required surgery. “Because it was my very last high school game, it was just down heartening for me to not be able to finish the actual game, but I was just super proud of my team.”

Pride was something all three of Lincoln’s honorees expressed when asked about the recent season. Despite the campaign’s unusual circumstances, Lincoln returned to the playoffs, and Hansen said that felt like a much bigger accomplishment than normal.

Heck, just finishing the season on the court felt good to the coach.

Hansen said 13 of her 14 girls also play softball, a sport that didn’t reach any sort of conclusion last season. The abrupt changes brought on by the pandemic last spring meant few, if any softball teams, were given a chance to host a proper senior day.

The Lincoln volleyball coach kept that fresh on her mind throughout the season as she tried to make this fall one the seniors would treasure.

“I think we were more focused on making sure. … not so much that we had to win games,” Hansen said when asked how she approached this year differently. “But that we were happy and we were enjoying coming together. … I tried real hard to push and really talk to them about seizing the moment and cherishing every moment that you have with these kids that are your friends, your teammates because this is going to end, it could end at any point.”