A season of overcoming adversity for Castlewood volleyball
Castlewood was present at the state volleyball championships this year for the first time since 1997, and the Warriors finished the ‘B’ tournament in sixth. While that alone is something to be celebrated, it’s the challenges that this season’s team had to deal with that truly displays the strength of the community, school, and team.
This past May, Castlewood was hit with a severe storm that produced a tornado. While plenty of South Dakota’s communities experienced severe damage with that system, Castlewood’s damage was extensive, which included damage to its school and one of its two gyms.
Additionally, the Warriors volleyball program was going through a transition with Breanna DeKam being a first-year coach this fall.
“It was definitely a very scary experience, and you don’t know how to react to something until you’re in the moment,” DeKam stated. “It’s going to be a lot to rebuild, but everybody is so supportive. We keep saying we’re Castlewood Strong and we are.”
DeKam grew up in Castlewood, played volleyball in high school for the warriors, and was an assistant coach for four years before being named the head coach for this season.
“I’ve always loved volleyball. I had four different coaches in high school, so that kind of motivated me to come back and kind of give some stability to the program,” DeKam explained. “And I love Castlewood.”
May’s tornado made it challenging to even find space to practice prior to the season. Kids from Castlewood made trips to surrounding communities like Watertown in the summer months, just to find a gym to be in. And then when the season got closer to starting, there were more questions of uncertainty.
“Coming into our season, we didn’t even know if we could be in our gym,” DeKam said. “Could we play at home? Luckily, we could, but it was a lot of uncertainty, and the girls really handled the adversity well.”
“Early on, we were initially going to use Estelline School, but then all of our buses were totaled out. So we had no way to take the kids,” exclaimed Castlewood athletic director and principal Angela Keszler.
Castlewood’s gym didn’t have air conditioning for the first match of the season against Clark/Willow Lake, because the AC system was still being repaired at that point.
Yet another hurdle was the fact that the school didn’t have home locker rooms all year.
“You might think, “oh that’s not a big deal,” but for the girls to get together and talk before the game, get hyped before the game, it was just really strange coming into that aspect of it,” coach DeKam explained. “We were lucky it hit one of our gyms and not both, that’s the biggest thing.”
The Warriors went 19-7 on the regular season, and then swept De Smet and Arlington in regionals before sweeping Tripp-Delmont/Armour in the SoDak 16.
“It was so important for us to win that SoDak 16,” DeKam stated. “We’ve been working for this goal for the past five years. Since I joined this program, we’ve been really close a couple years and to finally get here, it’s a blessing for us. It was very uplifting. After something so difficult for the whole town. To have something to enjoy and be proud of again, I think it was very uplifting for our town.”
On top of Castlewood’s volleyball going to state this week, the school also started transitioning to get some of their younger kids back into classroom units attached to the school.
“So we sent the volleyball team off on Wednesday. We didn't have school Thursday or Friday because we were moving from the churches into our mobile units that finally got completed,” said athletic director Keszler.” So right now, my elementary teachers are home getting their classrooms ready to start with our kids on Monday. I’ve had my 5th grade through 12th grade in the main building since the start of school. We actually started on our start date. My elementary kids started two weeks later in the churches. So we’ve been in basements of churches, and not all of them have basements, but in the churches since September 6th.”
Castlewood lost a close one to Burke in the quarterfinal round on Thursday night 3-2, and then they bounced back to beat Colman-Egan 3-1 in the consolation round. On Saturday, the Warriors fell to Northwestern 3-0, which placed Castlewood in 6th for the tournament.
“I think the main thing is that these kids have figured out a little bit about life and how to prioritize things and how to be thankful for the opportunities that we were given, because sometimes you just don’t know when that can change,” Keszler told. “We had a couple kids with injuries this year, and so, I’ve seen these kids be resilient. Like I said, that’s the word that keeps coming to mind because even [Thursday] night, these girls, they lost a tough match, and they came back ready to go again [Friday]. It just shows you how they’re just kind of comeback kids and I’m just so proud of them all.
Coach DeKam also praised her team’s strength and attitude. She said these kids are a prime example of how special the Castlewood community is.
“I keep telling my girls, I’m very proud of them. This season we’ve had two big injuries, we’ve had comebacks, we’ve had big losses, and the way that they push through it and bounce back and have good energy on the court – I’m proud of the way they played this year.”