THE SQUEAK of new tennis shoes on the court. The smell of buttery popcorn from concessions down the hall. The spirit of a dozen teenage girls problem-solving, coming of age, and commiserating together.
Organized sports teach life lessons that don’t come in any K-12 curriculum, job training, or lecture from a parent. Those lessons will someday make former Fayetteville High School (FHS) volleyball player Ella Moyers an excellent nurse and coach.
“As you grow up in sports, you learn to be more of a leader and take more responsibility in helping others,” she said. “It taught me how to manage my time and balance my schedule.”
Since seventh grade, Moyers hasn’t missed a season. She’s spent six years juggling practices, school work, volleyball camps, and away games. During her senior year, she added courses at Motlow State Community College and graduated as her class’s salutatorian.
“We had three games a week, and a lot of times, we had tournaments on Saturdays,” she said. “I took Motlow classes, and I would be there from like 8 a.m. to around 11 a.m. Then I would go to high school and be there until 1 p.m. Then I would have either practice from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. or away games.”
Moyers said it was a lot, but it was always worth it. Some of her best friends started as her teammates. And on the FHS team, it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior, you play together.
“When I was a freshman, I was close with some of the seniors,” she said. “This year, as a senior, I was close with some of the freshmen. Regularly, you wouldn’t have that connection. But being on the team, you get to meet everyone and build those bonds.”
It wasn’t always friendship bracelets and locker room bonding, though. Moyers said she learned to control her emotions with her teammates and work toward a common goal.
“Obviously, you’re not always gonna get along with people that you’re around so much of the time, and being able to realize that those are only temporary disagreements and at the end of the day you’re still a team, and you still love each other — I think that’s really beneficial,” she said.
The lows were low. There are summer training camps for varsity players, and Moyers said those are some of the most challenging days for the team. They have six-hour practices with coaches that travel down to train the high schoolers.
“I think us going through that together because it was so difficult and tiring brings us closer because we had to get through it together,” Moyers said.
But the highs were high. Moyers reflected on one game at Moore County, where she scored 18 serves in a row.
“I think that was one of my bigger accomplishments that I’ve ever had,” she said.”It was pressure on myself because I wanted to keep going, and if I could have gotten 25 points, I would’ve because that’s the volleyball set.”
This type of perfectionism is common among athletes and students with salutatorian-level work ethic, but it wasn’t completely lost on Moyers how big of an achievement that game was.
“It also is a really big confidence boost because as an athlete you put so much of your confidence in your performance, and I think having a good performance really sets you up for your next game or the rest of your games,” she said.
Any student-athlete would tell you that a good coach can make all the difference — as can a bad one. Moyers had the same volleyball coach, Sharon Ruhlander, for all four years of high school. Ruhlander is one of those coaches that teaches her athletes to be respectful no matter what, to lift each other up, and to work as a team.
“She really did try to make good people rather than just good players,” Moyers said.
Moyers’s last varsity volleyball season at Fayetteville High School ended in October. She’s headed to the University of Tennessee Southern in the fall to study nursing. And while her days as an outside hitter — a position reserved for the taller girls on the team — are over, she’s carrying the lessons that come with years of conditioning, hard practices, and days-long tournaments with her. She even plans to coach middle school volleyball next season as someone who’s been in those young players’ shoes.
“Funny story — I tried out for volleyball in sixth grade and didn’t make the team, so I played soccer instead,” she said,
laughing. “But I practiced a lot more and learned a lot more and prepared myself. And I made it my seventh grade year.”
Moyers said it’s hard to find experienced volleyball coaches in the area. And she already has some experience mentoring middle school players during volleyball camps over the summer led by the varsity players. She even coached the middle schoolers a few times during her senior year.
“Being able to mentor them is important because coaches don’t mean to, but if you have a tough coach, they can break your spirit,” Moyers said.
It’s clear that Moyers loves the sport of volleyball and the athletes. Her excitement for the girls she’ll coach someday is already palpable, and her advice for them comes from years of experience:
“Through the hard times, you can lean on your teammates because they probably have the same experiences you have. Just keep going because, in the end, you’ll regret not following through because it’s such an amazing experience. And getting to travel and play with the people you’re connected with — you make friendships that will last forever, and you’ll have a lot of stories to share about all the good times you have together.” GN