HARTSBURG — For a motto to go the distance, it must cover a lot of ground.
The T-shirts worn by this year’s Hartsburg-Emden High School volleyball team, for example, were adorned with the words “whatever it takes.”
Anna Hayes took those words to heart while leading the 36-5 Stags to second place in the Class 1A state tournament.
All it took from Hayes was 527 kills, which marked the third consecutive season she had paced Pantagraph area hitters, giving the senior a career total of 1,780, the second most in state history. Only Chatham Glenwood’s Hannah Werth had more with 2,022 between 2005 and 2008.
With Hayes’ place in state history secure, The Pantagraph has named her the Area Volleyball Player of the Year. She considers it an honor to rank second.
“I’ve worked so hard for that, day in and day out my whole life,” she said. “It feels good that it paid off.”
The journey to the Final Four was a dream come true for Hayes’ coach, who happens to be her mother. Jennifer Hayes has guided her alma mater for 24 years, posting a 653-244 record while collecting four state trophies including one for first in 2006.
“It was great in 2006 to win the whole thing, but it’s just a whole different level (of thrill) to experience it with your daughter,” said Jennifer, who watched the Stags go 119-34 during her daughter's four years as a starter.
Anna's competitive instincts have been sharpened by her twin brother, Austin, and their older brother, Alec, who plays basketball at Monmouth College.
“She wasn’t about to get beat by a boy,” Jennifer says. “Whether it was playing hockey down in the basement or basketball out on the driveway or Whiffle Ball or whatever, they pushed that competitive drive."
Looking back, Anna wouldn't change a thing.
“The competitiveness we’ve had with each other makes me who I am now,” she said.
It was Anna’s father, Aaron, who suggested “whatever it takes,” a motto the Cleveland Cavaliers adopted for their 2017-18 playoff run.
“We knew this year was going to be really good,” Anna said. “We just made it a motivation type thing.”
A 6-foot tall Memphis recruit with the ability to jump and touch 9 feet, 10 inches high, Hayes’ motivation was tested in the sectional final when Kewanee Wethersfield pushed Hartem to the limit before bowing, 26-28, 25-12, 25-23, as Hayes notched a career-high 31 kills off 65 swings.
“It was just a tremendous battle,” Jennifer Hayes remembers. “She knew in order to get to the state tournament, that was probably going to be one of the toughest matches to get through. Anna just really took the team on her shoulders.”
When it was over, fans stormed the court while Anna shed tears of joy.
“She was so emotionally into the moment,” Jennifer recalls. “She gave absolutely everything.”
Anna has come to terms with losing the state final to Newark, 25-16, 25-23.
“It just wasn’t in the cards,” she said. “They were a lot taller than us. They had a lot more weapons than we had. We did everything we could. We fought hard.”
Prior to the fight came the work.
Hayes did much of hers as a member of the Bloomington-based Illini Elite Volleyball Club. The day after the state tournament — in the ultimate “whatever it takes” moment — instead of resting, Hayes went to club tryouts.
Over the years, she's had a variety of club coaches.
“All the coaches I’ve had are very different,” she said. “All of the coaches helped me grow as a player differently.”
Anna credits her mother’s coaching success to the way she cares for each player and focuses on the fundamentals.
Jennifer rates Anna the best player she’s coached, a status earned through a relentless drive to improve. The payoff this year was 6.1 kills per game off a .399 hitting percentage.
Next year, the mother is going to miss the daughter, whose high school career was preceded by four years as team manager.
“It will just be different to know that after all those years, that it’s finally over,” said Jennifer, who also knows it takes precisely 6 hours and 17 minutes to drive to Memphis.
When you want to watch a loved one play, you do whatever it takes.