Although they are a quarter of an hour apart, walking into their classrooms is a dead giveaway of their connection.
They’re not your typical learning environments. Each features a love seat in the center with chairs out of a furniture catalog surrounding it. Even the wallpaper and equipment used in class is the same.
Gina Clark and Kaylie Bergkamp are a mother-daughter pair at Garden Plain and Andale high schools, respectively. They both coach volleyball, and they run their classes and programs almost identically. When Bergkamp’s players saw a photo of Clark’s room, they were shocked by the similarities.
Heading into the 2019 season, both programs held four-hour meetings with their seniors from 6-10 p.m. and talked about expectations, leadership, team mottos and the pillars of their programs. Clark even had her players read a two-inch thick book on becoming a leader and highlight passages they liked.
Both coaches write letters for their players before games. Both practice with varsity, JV and freshmen together as one program. Both run the same offensive and defensive sets.
Clark and Bergkamp do things most programs, even championship programs, don’t do. That’s why they have a shot at making history this season.
Since Kansas recognized volleyball as an official high school sport in 1971, no school district has produced multiple state championships in the same season.
Andale is a favorite in Class 4A, and Garden Plain is the defending champion of 2A. Together, they represent Renwick USD 267.
“The expectation is created, definitely created,” said Natasha Dooley, a Garden Plain senior and All-Metro selection last year. “We wake up at 5:30 to make it to weights in the summer, so we work year-round to get those titles. It’s the same way at Andale. They do the exact same thing we do.”
The Andale seniors said they work out before the football team does, starting at 5:55 a.m.
But this is seemingly the end of a window of opportunity. The programs enter the season with 11 combined seniors and 69 wins from last year. The players know the pressure is on.
“That trickles into other things,” Clark said. “None of these guys are going to play for the Olympic volleyball team or play professionally overseas. We all know that, but they’re going to be competitive getting a job. They’re going to be competing for scholarships. They might even be competing for boyfriends.
“Everything they’re going to do in life is going to be competitive, so if you learn how to manage it now, I think when they all leave here, they’ll all be successful because they know how to thrive when the pressure is on.”
The two programs were close to the history-making feat last year. Garden Plain won the 2A title over Wabaunsee 27-25, 25-11, in Hays. The Owls lost to three 4A teams and three 5A teams during the regular season and no one else.
It was Clark’s third title at Garden Plain, the most by any Wichita-area coach since 2008.
A day earlier, in Hutchinson, Andale was up on Louisburg in the state semifinals after winning the first set 25-12. The Indians were playing their best volleyball of the season, they said, but then Anna Dixon took over.
Now playing at Kansas State and for the U.S. Junior National Team, Dixon almost single-handedly won the final two sets for Louisburg, 25-21, 25-14. She finished with 22 kills, four off her season-high.
Louisburg went on to lose to Bishop Miege in the championship match. Dixon was held to six kills. Louisburg won only 27 points over two sets, which left Andale thinking, “What if?”
In pool play, Andale faced Miege and took the Stags to three sets. After countless meetings across multiple sports, the schools consider themselves rivals despite the three hours and 200 miles between them.
Bergkamp said she was confident her group could have pulled off the upset if they got another chance in the title game. Instead, emotionally spent, Andale’s players lost the third-place match as well to Topeka Hayden and went home without a trophy, knowing they wouldn’t be commemorated on the banners in the gym.
Now they want more for the community.
“There’s not any sport where the crowd’s not filled with parents and fans; people just come and don’t even have a kid on the team,” Andale senior Sage Reichenberger said.
Loaded with talent
Andale brings back arguably its most talented roster in school history. Its senior class — Morgan Bruna, Madison Grimes, Jenna Jarmer, Chloe Rau and Sage Reichenberger — are all among the Wichita area’s best at their respective positions. Bergkamp is the defending All-Metro Coach of the Year. And junior Katelyn Fairchild is among the area’s best, too.
Garden Plain, though just a 2A school, is one of the area’s most talented teams, too. Seniors Lydia Becker, Sydnee Becker, Claire Clark, Natasha Dooley, Kennedy Horacek, Taylor Meyer and Anna Smith have played together since sixth grade with coach Clark at the helm. They said they still run the same drills they did about six years ago.
They know it’s uncommon for a championship team to return six seniors and want to take advantage.
The programs know each other well. Clark and Bergkamp and in constant communication, trading film and notes on opponents and their own teams. Bergkamp played at Garden Plain under her mother and even won a title in 2008, a decade before her sister, Claire, did last year.
But even outside of the mother-daughter connection, the players have competed with and against one another their whole lives. In preseason scrimmages, Clark said she asks her players which Andale player is wearing which number. They always know.
There is a friendly rivalry between the schools, both sets of seniors agreed, but though Andale typically wins those scrimmages, the Indians are still chasing that title. Every day, the Andale seniors walk past a trophy case filled with football, wrestling and track state titles.
There isn’t one for volleyball.
“Seeing the trophy case and seeing that there’s nothing there yet, it gets my blood pumping,” Bruna said. “Being there last year and being that close makes me want to just reach out and grab it.”
Across town, Garden Plain’s girls athletics programs are riding a three-season streak of championships that started with last year’s volleyball title. Then-juniors Sydnee Becker and Claire Clark went on to help the Owls to a girls basketball title and finished the year with a track crown.
Becker said they know what they started and look forward to defending that dominance.
“By the time track season came around, we all thought, ‘We have to keep this up,’ ” Becker said. “We just want to keep it rolling.”
That championship pedigree is felt throughout the building at Garden Plain. Football coach Ken Dusenbury is entering his fifth season with the Owls and held the school’s annual midnight practice Monday.
Just before the clock turned for the new football year, Dusenbury said he welcomes the challenge of bringing Garden Plain its first football title since 2007 and first in any boys sports since 2010. Garden Plain’s girls programs have won eight titles since a boys program won its most recent.
He said he has a lot of help around him in Clark, girls basketball coach Kody Kasselman and girls track coach Eric Rockers.
“It’s like having a coaching clinic 365 days a year in your building,” Dusenbury said. “I’ll go down during planning period and ask coaches, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ I’m always bugging them. I even talked to coach Clark today.”
There is pressure on seemingly every program in Renwick USD 267. The district’s high schools are considered among the most successful not only in the Wichita area but all of Kansas.
Both sets of seniors said the expectations are created as kids and executed by the time they are juniors and seniors. It’s a district-wide calculation that has paid off for decades and that would only be proven with a pair of volleyball championships in 2019 under a mother-daughter pair.
“On Saturday of state last year when we were on the bus to Hutch, my mom gave us a Facetime call, and they were on the way to Hays,” Bergkamp said. “We were encouraging each other and rooting for each other, but I think the hardest thing afterwards was seeing so many texts about how my mom and my sister won a state championship. We were on the bus home not with a sour taste in our mouths, but we just knew we were so close.
“My mom has been at it a while, and I don’t know how much longer she will do it. I don’t know how much longer we will teach and coach in the same district, so I do feel more pressure this year than I did last year because I know what we have in our gym and the expectations of these cities.”