LIBERTY — Just how special of a season did the Liberty North volleyball team have in 2019? Put it this way: the Eagles are still feeling the aftershocks more than three months since it ended.
North assistant coach Sean Barrett has recently been named the Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches Association’s Class 4 Assistant Coach of the Year.
“I just appreciate the fact that someone noticed the job I do and took the time to nominate me,” the humble Barrett said. “When your peers take notice of what you do, it makes you feel good.”
The prep volleyball community is certainly noticing Liberty North’s upstart program these days. It all started this fall, when the Eagles produced the most successful season in team history.
North turned in a program-best 23-10 record this fall and reached a district championship match for only the second time ever — the first at the Class 4 level. The Eagles shared the Suburban Red Conference title with Park Hill South, another first since joining the large-class ranks.
Senior captain Taylor Gates led the way as she became the first All-State player in volleyball program history while setting the match, single-season and career team record for kills. Gates graduated in December and has already begun her college career at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Fellow senior Allie Hinkley was named Second Team All-Conference and Second Team Team All-District. Record-setting sophomore Addison Beagle broke the team records for assists in a match, season and career this fall and was tabbed First Team All-Conference and First Team All-District. Sophomore Isabel Zimmerman joined the award winners as a second teamer on the All-Conference and All-District squads.
The awards didn’t stop on the court, either. Eight of the girls on the team were named Academic All-State: Gates, Beagle, Zimmerman; juniors Sydney Jacquin, Rachel Spainhour, Grace Reineke and Olivia Zimmerman; and sophomore Caitlyn Burns.
“Our coaches are the reason we are so successful,” Beagle said. “They’re so positive in everything they do. I’m super excited to see how much we grow with them.”
Leading the program to all this success was head coach Katie Dowden, who of course received an award herself. Dowden was named the Greater Kansas City Volleyball Coaches Association Missouri Large Class Coach of the Year and served as the head coach for Team Missouri in the GKCVCA’s MO-KAN All-Star Match back in November at Avila University, an event that Gates and Hinkley had the honor to play in.
“Our program may never be defined by state titles,” Dowden said. “What we have are some quality kids that I would go to battle with every day.”
And she has a special coaching staff as well. Dowden, who is largely responsible for taking Liberty North volleyball to new heights in her four years with the program, has not one but two assistants with previous head coaching experience. Barrett, who guided North’s junior varsity team to a stellar 31-2 record this past season, previously spent 10 years as the head man at Fort Osage, while Megan Laws is a former head coach at Kearney.
“I am the luckiest coach in the world to have the people on my staff that I do,” Dowden said. “This works because we share the same vision for our program and the culture we’re trying to build. We’ve put in a lot of hard work since I got here in 2016. It’s been a work in progress. But it’s not about us as coaches. It’s about the kids. They’re the ones that have done this.”