Heritage Christian volleyball team wins back-to-back state championships in honor of coach who died from brain aneurysm

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OLATHE, Kan. -- Heritage Christian Academy's girls volleyball team is in the spotlight for their ability to face adversity and rise to the top.

"We laugh a lot, and we joke around a lot, but we know when to be serious," senior Kate Allen said.

Allen describes her teammates as a bunch of goofy girls with big hearts who love God and love to play ball. Life is full, but this team has been tested.

In 2015, just days before the start of a new school year, everything changed.

Heritage Christian volleyball team's 2017 state championship plaque

"My mom woke me up and was like Coach Van Gorp had a brain aneurysm," Allen said.

Coach Janice Van Gorp, a woman admired and loved by so many, was fighting the ultimate fight. Two days later, the students' fear became their reality.

"Our counselor called us into the meeting room and told us she had passed," Allen said.

"It was a really hard day, and after that, there was just something that just sparked our team that we have to do this now for her," junior Faith Hammontree said.

The goal? Win a state championship in Van Gorp's honor.

The 2-A school had never done it before, but the team knew if they had faith and worked harder than they ever had, they could make it happen.

"It says fearless. This was kind of like Janice Van Gorps saying," said Allen, describing her shirt. "She always said be fearless. When you're playing volleyball and also in life."

The team's first step in healing: Let go of the fear of failure.

The team trained hard and made it to state, but came in a disappointing second.

Instead of going home and throwing in the towel, they got better, worked harder and kept their minds sharper.

By 2016, they were ready and took home the state volleyball championship title for the first time in school history.

"After state, seeing her husband and her kids, getting to hug them and stuff, it just reminded everyone, and it was just really awesome." Allen said.

The experience was gratifying, but the team decided they were going two for two.

The Heritage Christian volleyball team with their 2016 state championship plaque.

"Win it once again for Janice and never let her legacy die," Hammontree said.

In October 2017, they did it again, winning the state championship two years back to back.

"A really cool experience to be able to go out there and play for God and our coach," Allen said.

"Not many people get that opportunity," Assistant Volleyball Coach Kelly Bugler said. "It was fantastic. Anyone who is competitive or ambitious, you set goals, and when you go out and achieve them, it's just a great feeling."

Coach Tom Slaughter led the team to both state championships and a record of 68-17 during the two years he served as head coach.