By Greta Klein
Staff Writer

Some families don’t come in the traditional way most people think of. Being family oriented means everything on the Hutchinson Community College volleyball team.

Sophomores Anna Dean and Taniya Golden are two volleyball players who are part of a family-oriented team. No matter if you’re an incoming freshman or a returning sophomore, Blue Dragons coach Delice Downing makes sure everyone feels like family.

“We have a great relationship, my coaching staff and myself have a great relationship with our players,” Downing said. “Our relationship is really strong and I think that’s a big part of how well our team is doing right now. It’s having that relationship with each other, yes I am their head coach, yes I have high expectations, yes I push them, but they also know that I’m their confidant, or friend when I need to be.”

Both returning players for the Blue Dragons, Dean and Golden have made a name for themselves and had an impact on last season and this season’s team.

“They are strong leaders – independent strong women who have their goals on what they want, but put it all for the team first,” Downing said. “Both girls lead in their own way. Where Anna is more led by example and Taniya is more with her voice, that has been a great combination of leaders.”

When you’re winning games and doing things right, it’s easy being a leader for the team. So far this season, the Blue Dragons are 12-5 overall and 5-1 in the Jayhawk Conference. But even in the hard times Dean and Golden have shown to be leaders for the Blue Dragons.

“If something is going wrong, they take the blame. If things are going right, they give it all to the team,” Downing said. “I really appreciate that in them because there are a lot of times where we’re having an off night and they will bring (the team) together, give them a quick talk ‘we’re better than this’ type of conversation and they get right back out there.”

During their first seasons at HutchCC, Dean and Golden received a number of honors. Dean, a middle blocker for the Blue Dragons, was named to the second team of the 2022 All-Jayhawk Conference Division I Volleyball team. Adding to the accomplishments, Golden, who is the outside and right side hitter, was named the 2022 Jayhawk Conference Division I Freshman of  the Year and first-team all-Jayhawk Conference.

Everyone on the team has placed a strong emphasis on carrying over all of their previous season’s hard work into this one.

“This year we are more calm. Last year was just sporadic and intense and this year everything is more fundamentals, calming and just playing volleyball,” Dean said.

There is no doubt that participating in sports involves a lot of physical and mental effort.

“I think this team has definitely taken on the mental part of the game. Not just on the court but also off the court, they are mentally preparing themselves in their daily lives and everything that they do,” Downing said.

Downing has made it clear that this group of girls are in it for the long hall this season. “I always have high expectations for every season I’ve been coaching,” Downing said. “This one is just as high, if not higher… I think we have a great chance to be something really great by the end of this season.”

Besides working hard and putting time in on the court, the Blue Dragon volleyball team also has the occasional team fun night at the beginning of the season.

“We will split them into teams and do a scavenger hunt. We will meet back at the gym and have a team fun night,” Downing said. “We will play pickleball, kickball, dance contests, or minute-to-win-it type of things – just to work as a team.”

It can be a difficult transition as athletes adjust to a new environment and start practicing.

“Preseason is tough and it’s blah so that helps to get the sisterhood from the jump,” Downing said.

A bond between athletes and friends can be something extraordinary.

“(Me and Taniya are) very close. We came together in June of last semester. We got really close and continued to respond to each other,” Dean said.

Sometimes friendships differ while on and off the court but with Dean and Golden, that’s not an issue. “We trust each other and we know when one of us needs to step up or one of us needs to get on the other one to step up,” Dean said.

Even some friendly competition happens between these two.

“If we didn’t, we would be as successful as we were if anybody didn’t compete with anybody,” Dean said.

These women will always stand by one another regardless of what happens. The connection and support this family has for each other will be an unbreakable bond.

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