Confidence and trust: Verbena’s volleyball program built from ground up on values

Published 12:13 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

No one knows exactly how long, but for decades, Verbena High School’s volleyball program was absent from its athletics. It was not until 2021 that the Class 1A school brought its volleyball program back on board, but the return did not come without its share of tough times.

Players who came out for the team did not have an extensive volleyball background. Softball and basketball were the sports of choice for girls at Verbena for years, and volleyball skills were not needed. The 2021 and 2022 seasons yielded just a handful of wins for the reborn program, but a new face was featured among those volunteering their time to help it grow.

Hannah Chapman, a graduate of Jemison High School who played volleyball for the Panthers throughout her time there, took a teaching job at Verbena in 2022. She wanted to take it slow her first year at the school to get used to everything, but dabbled in helping at the scorer’s table during volleyball games.

“I love Verbena because it is a small school, everybody knows everybody and they are very, very kind people,” Chapman said. “Once I got familiar with everybody and the other teachers, I started helping keep score at the games, run the clock and kind of inserted myself a little more. Finally, they asked me if I was interested in coaching, and of course I was over the moon excited because that is what I have always wanted to do.”

Chapman grew up playing club and school volleyball, and remembers Verbena never having a program while she was growing up. The head coaching role at Verbena is Chapman’s first coaching job for a school team, but she has been coaching at Peach City Volleyball Club in Clanton for a few years.

She said there is a huge difference in coaching club volleyball and school volleyball, such as having kids from outside Chilton County with previous experience playing club ball. So, it was up to her to build a foundation for her players.

“At Verbena, a lot of the girls did not have a big background in volleyball, so over the summer we went through the basics and tried to perfect those before we added more advanced things,” Chapman said.

Verbena held tryouts in May, and held practices two times each week during the summer to help build the skills for the players before entering the season.

Chapman said the first few games she was nervous, and excited, to see how the season would go. The players continued to surprise her all season long building their trust in each other, and Chapman. The Red Devils lost their first five games of the season, but in September they found their groove. Verbena won seven of its next eight games and stormed through the second half of the season to win 11 games in 2023, and an overall record at or right near .500.

Verbena earned a bye to the semifinals of the AHSAA Class 1A Area 7 volleyball tournament, but lost 3-2 to Notasulga High School falling just a few points shy of the regional tournament in Montgomery.

“I was very shocked (how the season went), and I was shocked from the very first few games that we played,” Chapman said. “With it being only my second year of teaching (at Verbena), I knew it would be a lot to take on. I played volleyball year-round when I was in school, and I love the sport. I think they turned a lot of heads, they at least did mine, all season and I was really happy for them.”

Chapman feels like having programs like volleyball at small schools such as Verbena is very important for students. Whether it is a sport, club or activity, Chapman believes every student should be introduced to some sort of extracurricular activity.

“I hope at least as a coach I was able to teach them not just the skills in volleyball, but also some of those work ethic and determination qualities they will need even after they graduate,” Chapman said. “That is what I try to tell them all the time, ‘Just a little bit of confidence will take you a long way.’ That is one thing my girls showed me this past season. I grew that confidence just a little bit, and they took off with it.”

Chapman gave a special thanks to assistant coaches Briar Smith and David Sneed for their help in shaping the team this season.