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Mustangs sweep honors

As a skinny 7th grader that had never played volleyball, Krysta Tyler moved to Isabella after tryouts for the sport had already been held.

Fortunately for her and the Isabella volleyball program, coach Glen Graham accounts for scenarios like Tyler’s by keeping open one spot on the team. Tyler has been a perfect fit for Isabella volleyball ever since.

Tyler this season excelled in her role enough to earn The Clanton Advertiser’s Volleyball Player of the Year honor.

With Tyler at setter, Isabella finished the regular season with a 26-5 record and made the sub-state round of the Class 2A playoffs.

Tyler’s performance at the position was not a given because she moved from hitter last season, where she finished second on the team in kills.

But Tyler’s make-up made her a natural for setter. She had the height to help block, and, with a 3.9 GPA, Tyler is valedictorian of her class.

“I like having a bright girl as quarterback of the team,” Graham said.

Tyler led the team with 472 assists and 108 aces to go along with 74 digs and 82 kills, but her most significant contributions might have been ones not measurable by statistics.

Graham said this year’s Mustangs were more successful than last year’s squad because the players were all pulling in the same direction. Much of that attitude can be attributed to the senior leadership displayed by Tyler and others.

Tyler didn’t take credit for pulling the team together but said there was an obvious difference.

“I knew our group was a lot closer,” Tyler said.

By a vote of her teammates before the season, Tyler was chosen as team captain.

“They usually get it right,” Graham said. “They usually vote for the person I would pick myself.”

Coach of the Year: Glen Graham

Few people that were involved with the Isabella volleyball program when it was re-created in 1998 would recognize it today.

Fourteen girls participated then. There are three teams worth of players now, enough assistant coaches to help them all perform their best and an expectation of success.

The lone constant has been coach Glen Graham, The Clanton Advertiser’s Volleyball Coach of the Year.

“It’s been incredible to see the growth of the program,” Graham said. “It’s outgrown me.”

The demands required to sustain the momentum has kept Graham from reflecting too much on what has been accomplished at Isabella, but a few events this season provided an opportunity to do just that.

First, on Sept. 11, Graham won his 250th match at the school.

Then, on Oct. 4, Isabella held an alumni day, and 12 former players—which represented 10 area championships, two region championships and six appearances in the state tournament—participated in an exhibition match.

Finally, one week later, Isabella won the county tournament for the second time in six years.

“I feel like this validates the Isabella volleyball program,” Graham said at the time, but the county tournament championship didn’t validate the program.

Not even the Mustangs 11th consecutive area championship or a trip to the sub-state round of the playoffs could validate the program because that had already happened much earlier.

It happened as soon as one player used Isabella volleyball as a way to earn a college education (six Mustangs have played collegiately since 2004).

That is, after all, the kind of thing Graham works for.

“I hope the girls that have come through are better moms, wives and employees,” Graham said. “That’s what sports is all about, it’s about relationships.”