A friendly connection on the court

Prairie volleyball program promotes friendship through a big sister/little sister system that has been going on for years

BRUSH PRAIRIE — It is starting to hit the seniors of the Prairie High School volleyball team that this is it.

They will play Friday, and they expect to play Saturday, too, at the Class 3A state tournament in Kennewick.

And that will be it. The end of their high school volleyball careers.

The four Prairie seniors (left to right) Megan Hammes, Zoe McBride, Abby Brotherton, and Aryah Marlow remember when they were freshman how important it was to them when the seniors befriended them. This year, they did the same to the incoming freshmen. This tradition will carry on next year, too, at Prairie. Photo by Paul Valencia
The four Prairie seniors (left to right) Megan Hammes, Zoe McBride, Abby Brotherton, and Aryah Marlow remember when they were freshman how important it was to them when the seniors befriended them. This year, they did the same to the incoming freshmen. This tradition will carry on next year, too, at Prairie. Photo by Paul Valencia

They know they have been part of something special for four years. Win or lose this weekend, there will be tears.

They also will know that the special feeling they have right now will be passed on to the next group of seniors, and the next, and the next.

At Prairie, all players, at all skill levels, are welcome from the beginning, from the very first practice in August before their freshmen seasons.

“We’re not three different teams,” Megan Hammes said, referring to varsity, junior varsity, and freshman squads. “We’re all one. All playing for the same reasons.”

For love of volleyball. For love of Prairie. For love of each other.

There is no official name for what they have, but it could be called a big sister/little sister program. Each year, seniors find a freshman or sophomore to share their experiences.

The Prairie Falcons are heading back to the state tournament for the seventh consecutive season. One of the keys to the program’s success has been friendship. Not just between varsity players, but junior varsity and freshmen. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Prairie Falcons are heading back to the state tournament for the seventh consecutive season. One of the keys to the program’s success has been friendship. Not just between varsity players, but junior varsity and freshmen. Photo by Paul Valencia

For home games, the younger players have small gifts for the seniors. For the away games, the seniors return the favors.

The four seniors on Prairie’s team this year all remember what it was like when they were freshmen.

“They were superstars. ‘Wow, they’re so cool,’” Abby Brotherton recalled. “But then they are also your friend.”

“I felt I was part of something. I actually felt connected. Someone interacted with me,” Aryah Marlow said.

This season, it was their turn to be a big sister.

“Everyone deserves to have the same experience, to have the friendships we had,” Zoe McBride said.

“We take them under our wings,” Hammes added.

Year in school, starter or reserve, it does not matter. Wear the Prairie uniform, and you are part of the family.

There is offseason training in the summer, then official practice starts in August. For freshmen fall athletes, their first real experience associated with high school is through their sport. Marlow pointed out that the big sister/little sister program does not just help on the court. It means the freshmen already have an older student to seek out in those September school days that can be a bit chaotic.

Brotherton said she is good friends with her little volleyball sister. They talk every day.

All four seniors said they have kept in touch, at least through social media, with their big sisters from years ago.

Now, though, it is time to start thinking of the now.

This is the seventh consecutive trip to state for the Falcons. This senior class saw Did Not Place and Did Not Place in the first two appearances. Last year, the Falcons placed seventh.

Expectations are higher now with this team, lead by a new head coach, Jen Palmer.

How high?

“First,” McBride and Brotherton said at the same time, without pause.

“We want it so bad. We really want this,” Brotherton added.

Hammes took her time before thinking of the team’s goal this season. And she sounded more like a coach.

“Play to the best of our ability,” Hammes said. “This is the last time playing for our school. We’re playing for each other. It’s not an individual thing. Everyone is a part of this, no matter how big or small the role.”

That last time playing for Prairie thing really hit home, too.

The seniors reflected on what this program has meant to them through the years.

“The connection I’ve had with all these girls has been amazing,” Marlow said.

“It has shown me that no matter what skill level you come in with as a freshman, you can become good enough to play in college,” Brotherton said.

“It was a good experience my freshman year, and it’s been good every year,” McBride said.

One of the top players in the state, McBride is one of a few Falcons who play all year in club. But playing for Prairie was special.

“I was always so excited for high school volleyball to start up again,” McBride said. “I couldn’t wait for August.”

Hammes said Prairie volleyball showed her how hard work and dedication can lead a person to bigger and better things.

“Not only as an athlete but being a better person,” Hammes said. “I”m going to miss it so much.”

These Falcons will miss high school volleyball, but their younger teammates will always remember them. And if the program continues with its tradition, the next class will follow the lead of the seniors before them, by welcoming the seniors of the future.

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About The Author

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Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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