Ask anyone what the most important part of a winning team is and you’ll likely receive a few different responses. Some will immediately say that a strong defense is essential to success. Others will counter with the classic (paraphrased) George Washington quotation that the best defense is a strong offense. But what if even the combination of these two factors isn’t enough to propel a team to victory?
Meet the 2017 GDS varsity volleyball team, where a culture of teamwork and supportiveness is preached above all else. Of course, pretty much all team sports are based around the concept of cooperation with one’s fellow teammates, but perhaps the volleyball team values collaboration the most. “The sport transcends talent,” said junior Sarah Cooper. “We have the talent and the community.” On a team stuffed full with so much aptitude for the game, it would be easy to overlook working together as a team in favor of relying on individual stars to carry the squad on their backs. But if there’s one thing the 2017 group excelled at (although there were certainly many more), it was defying the norm.
A year after falling down to the ISL’s lower division, expectations for the team were not especially high. A major turning point in the season, however, came during a small league tournament at Sidwell early in the season. GDS won every game they played and came out of the tournament without a loss in the upper or lower division. According to legend, it was on the bus back to school that senior Amalie Zinn coined the nickname “Undefeated Beasts.” “We were just joking around on the bus,” said Zinn. “I thought maybe if we started a fake beef with the soccer team, people would come to our games. That was the goal of it, and it worked.” Zinn also further discussed the significance of the team’s record, saying, “The wrestling team was undefeated when I was in seventh or eighth grade and never got any recognition for it, and that always really annoyed me. When somebody’s undefeated for a season, it’s a big deal.” Zinn’s commitment to creating and promoting a winning culture has been extremely beneficial for the team. The team finished the regular season undefeated, before falling in the semifinals of both the ISL playoffs and the DC State tournament. The team was also able to attract and form a new fan base.
Students are still slow to come to the games, but one GDS administrator is on a mission to change that. Dean of Students Bobby Asher, despite admittedly not being a big volleyball fan before the season started, has arguably become the GDS team’s biggest supporter from the bleachers. When asked why he enjoys attending games so much, Asher responded simply, “Because it’s so damn fun!” Despite originally going to games just to support the students, Asher was quickly drawn in by the high level team play and camaraderie consistently demonstrated on the court. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” he continued, clearly in awe of what the team had accomplished. But above all, Asher gushed over what he seemed to view as the most crucial part of entertaining fans. “They brought joy to the game,” he exclaimed. “There was a genuine positive energy. You could sit in the stands and feel part of it. It’s a combination of confidence without arrogance; seriousness of purpose with joy. You could see leadership on the court. Watching them, it was like one plus one equals three.” Whatever that questionable math is supposed to mean, there’s one thing for sure: it’s a good thing. In an environment in which negativity and biting sarcasm from students often beset the state of school athletics, the volleyball team clearly managed to turn the GDS sports stereotype on its head in impressive fashion.
But it’s not just the team that inspired its fans. If you ask the players, they’ll say that the reverse was equally true. “Getting fans to come to games is super important,” said Zinn. “We always play better with people cheering us on because it motivates us when we’re doing well to keep pushing through.” She proceeded, saying that she “hopes that GDS will continue getting fans to games for all sports. I think it helps the teams and helps the culture of the school.” But how should they go about achieving that goal? According to Asher, the volleyball team has the method down. “They did everything they were supposed to do,” he said. He refers, of course, to both the creation of the Undefeated Beasts, as well as the subsequent email chain/marketing campaign to the school. “They encouraged the community at every chance they had to get out and support them,” he went on. “I think they’re a model for what other teams could do.”
One would be hard-pressed to find another organization in the school more emblematic of the GDS spirit than the varsity volleyball team: benefitting from perfect harmony on the court, receiving boosts from the fans who loyally come out to games, and in turn providing a “damn fun” experience for those who cheer them on. Asher remains perplexed, saying, “I don’t know why more people don’t come [to games.]” Be the one to answer the call of the Undefeated Beasts and come out next season to support both one of the most successful and one of the most spirit-infused teams in GDS history.
By Eli Thayer ’19