By Ellen Sawin, NCSA College Relations
With Thanksgiving over, the holiday season is officially underway. With all of the sales, shopping, cooking and celebrating, it’s easy to get swept up in the commercial side of the holidays. However, every once in a while you hear a touching story during the holiday season that can be described as nothing less than a miracle. It’s not often that these stories revolve around athletics, but one high school volleyball team in Iowa City was given a much needed miracle.
As with most heartfelt and miraculous stories, Iowa City West High School’s story stems from a tragedy. In August of 2011, the team’s captain and star setter Caroline Found, who went by ‘Line’ because she thought Caroline sounded like an old lady name, was ready to lead Iowa City West to a repeat season as Iowa 4A State Champions. Their run for a repeat title took a devastating turn around 9:40 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2011 when Line was killed in a moped accident.
The team and community were devastated. When the team walked into practice the next day at 7 a.m. they found hundreds of their classmates in the dark gym crying. This spoke for the type of person Line was – Coach Kathy Bresnahan described Line in an interview with ESPN. “She was irreverent, funny and spontaneous. She was in with the popular crowd, and yet she embraced everyone.” Line’s death was especially hard on her best friend, Kelley Fliehler. Line had moved in with Fliehler’s family to be closer to the hospital her mother was in due to pancreatic cancer. The tragedy took a turn for the worse when Line’s mother passed away just a few weeks later.
The team struggled at practices – breaking down while running laps and struggling to run any system drills without their setter. It looked as if it was going to be a very long season for the team. Coach Bresnahan struggled to find a player capable and willing of filling Line’s role as setter. Bresnahan finally called upon Fliehler to fill the position. Fliehler didn’t want to fill this role, but teammates reassured her that Line would want her of all people in that spot.
To honor their teammate, the West players put Line’s shoes under an empty chair on the bench. The team’s fan base grew and all of the fans wore shirts that read “Live Like Line.” Despite all of the hardships the team faced after losing their star player, they managed to come together and fight their way to the state championship game. However, after losing the first 2 games of the best of 5 title match, it looked as if West’s heartfelt run was going to come to an end.
With their teammate in mind, the team refused to give up. They forced the match to a fifth game. However, they found themselves on the wrong end of a 14-13 match point, but the opposing team missed their serve, and West went on to take the title for a second year in a row. The song that played as the West team received their championship trophy – “Sweet Caroline.”
“Winning state a second straight year made [Line’s] dream come true. We did it for her. We felt like she was still with us,” said Fliehler to ESPN.
After what seemed like an insurmountable tragedy, the Iowa City West High School volleyball team received a miracle; a miracle from their leader, a miracle that helped them honor Line in a unique way.