The game of volleyball has been a fixture in the Case home since the beginning. Hours of practice and years of sacrifice have been given by mother and daughters, from left, Ashley, Denise and Taylor. However, many memories have been created while strengthening their relationships. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
The game of volleyball has been a fixture in the Case home since the beginning. Hours of practice and years of sacrifice have been given by mother and daughters, from left, Ashley, Denise and Taylor. However, many memories have been created while strengthening their relationships. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS

"Ash, toss me the ball!" echoes the memory.

The oldest sister passes a ball to the youngest. The mother looks on.

In that moment, it's all there. A game. A family.

"I didn't think I would come back," admitted Denise Case, head coach of this year's state runner-up Fillmore Central volleyball team. She had coached at the high school level from 1989 to 1999 and Denise considered herself finished heading into the new millennium.

She continued coaching in the Junior Olympic (JO) program at the school. Her involvement in volleyball must have had a genetic origin because both her daughters continued to build what quickly became a family tradition.

Denise's oldest daughter, Ashley, played volleyball from seventh through 12th grade at Fillmore Central and has also been coaching JO teams for several years. Before she could play on the teams, Ashley would attend practices when her mother coached. Denise never coached Ashley in high school, but attended all the games.

She said, "I was always excited and proud of them. They always gave 110 percent and they loved the game."

"They," meaning the youngest Case, Taylor.

The girl who would demand the ball from her big sister loved volleyball. She watched her mother coach and her sister play. She started playing JO in fifth grade herself and was a manager for the high school teams for a few years as well.

"I remember how fun it was," the senior recalled. It may be because of her family or of the friends she has made or even the success she has had, but no matter what the factors are, Taylor has always loved volleyball.

Even when asked if her appreciation for it has strengthened over the years, she stops for a moment to think and then says, "No, I've always loved it."

For a family that has dedicated themselves to the game for many years, Taylor's involvement began to spur an even greater passion for volleyball within the Case family.

"She worked hard all the time . . . always gave 100 percent," Denise reiterated. Taylor's skill became apparent very quickly. The family was approached by varsity coaches before Taylor started the eighth grade.

"I was OK with it, but nervous about the emotional part of it," Denise explained about having her daughter play with the older girls. "I knew there was going to be a lot of power hitters."

Taylor expressed a desire to give varsity a try and that was that. "Coming in it was kind of intimidating playing with the older girls, but they were very welcoming," Taylor said, looking back on the five years she played. The experience, she added, helped her gain confidence.

"I was realizing what my talents were and what I was good at," she stated.

Soon, it wasn't just Taylor who was getting the call up, but her mother as well.

The mother who had thought her days of coaching at the high school level were over was asked if she would take the head coaching job. Initially, she said, "I didn't know if I would want to coach." However, she recognized a chance to help out what she called "a great group of girls." So, Denise decided to do it.

It seemed volleyball was calling not only her, but much of her family to help out. Ashley began helping out as an assistant coach and statistician during Taylor's sophomore year. She also coached the ninth grade team while Denise's nieces, Melissa Simonson and Kelsey Ristau, started coaching the seventh and eighth grade teams.

The entire family was getting involved.

"We're crazy about it," said Ristau.

Family members would wear matching t-shirts to games.

After games, everyone would hang out "at Grandma's house."

Their business, Preston Floral Treasures and More, would close for tournament games.

"We gave up a lot of weekends. We lived on volleyball on the weekends," said Denise.

The result was not just a great volleyball team, but a stronger family. "It brought us closer together as a whole, being supportive of one another," noted Simonson.

One family being strengthened by volleyball hinted at the larger coming together of entire communities as the team advanced to the state tournament.

Both Denise and Taylor remarked on how unforgettable the entire experience was, particularly seeing everyone who turned out for their games. "It was surreal," said Denise. "The first time we played and I looked at the crowd, I got teary eyed seeing the support from the community."

The team ended their unprecedented run in the championship match capping a 35-3 season. "I couldn't be more proud of the team," said Taylor. "We all should be very proud of what we accomplished for the community."

The memories are vivid: walking onto the state tournament court for the first time, seeing the crowd, joining Southwest Christian's team for a post-match prayer, the pre-tournament banquet, and more. The team came home and received another round of congratulations and a team banquet, but there weren't any more games.

Denise recalled how strange it felt for the first 3:30 p.m. weekday afternoon to roll around and realize she wouldn't be going to practice.

The season had ended, but the attachment to the community and team was as strong as ever. Like a family. The Cases understand that.

For Taylor Case and Tori Peterson, the two seniors on the team, their high school careers are over. Taylor is currently deciding which of three scholarship offers she will accept to play in college.

Denise, Ashley and the rest of the family are already looking forward to seeing what next season brings, but Junior Olympic volleyball is starting soon.

As is the case in sports, the next season will come. The game of volleyball will continue to be played, and when it is, another community will assemble and another family will gather.