By Rubin E. Grant
Mountain Brook volleyball coach Mattie Gardner can be forgiven for seeing double as she embarks on her second season.
And it’s not just because she has a chance to win her second consecutive state championship. She also has two sets of twins on her team as well as two girls who go by the name Mae Mae.
Juniors Mae Mae and Annie Lacey are identical twins. Gardner said it’s not easy to tell them apart, but it helps that Mae Mae, a middle hitter, is right-handed and Annie, a right-side hitter, is a lefty. They are also standout tennis players and helped the Spartans win the Class 6A girls tennis title in the spring.
Juniors Hannah and Paige Parant are the other set of twins, but they are not identical. Hannah, a setter, was voted to the 2021 All-OTM volleyball team as a sophomore. Paige is a defensive specialist.
The other Mae Mae on the team is sophomore outside hitter Mae Mae Beatty.
The twins and Mae Maes are part of a talented group that will not only try to bring Gardner her second consecutive Class 6A state championship but also lead the Spartans to their fourth consecutive title overall and seventh since 2014.
“Our goal is always the same — to win a state championship,” said Gardner, who was an assistant with the team when it captured titles in 2019 and 2020. “That’s on the forefront of our minds from Day 1.”
New Hands on Deck
Mountain Brook graduated four seniors off its 2021 title team that finished 43-12, including middle hitter Greer Golden and outside hitter Lucy Redden, who were the team leaders in kills. The other two seniors who graduated were outside hitter Hannah Hitson and libero Alexandra Carlson.
In addition to them, right-side hitter Sims Kilgore has elected not to play her senior season this fall.
“She wanted to explore different things,” Gardner said. “We hate losing a piece of the family, but we want what’s best for Sims.”
The Spartans will have three seniors, setter Addie Holden, defensive specialist Anna Frances Adams and middle hitter Caroline Heck.
The Lacey and Parant twins are among seven juniors on the team, including defensive specialist Ava Gillis, outside hitter Ann Coleman and middle hitter Alice Garzon.
Beatty and sophomore defensive specialist Ella Kate Wright round out the roster.
“We’re athletic and we’ve got players who have been playing volleyball for some time and have played for championships. So, this is reload and not a rebuild,” said Gardner, who last year was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Thirty Under 30 list, an award recognizing the top young coaches in the game.
Gardner has added two new varsity assistants who played collegiately, Stephanie Palmer (Winthrop and Samford) and Erin Godwin (Berry College). Freshman coach Alana Schouten also is new, while Tien Le returns to coach the junior varsity.
“We have a quality staff,” Gardner said. “I am super excited about them.”
Mountain Brook opens the season Aug. 18 at home against Spanish Fort, then will play in the Juanita Boddie Tournament Aug. 19-20 at the Finley Center in Hoover.
The Spartans will compete in Class 6A, Area 10 along with Pell City, Shades Valley and Woodlawn.
Gardner is eager to begin her second season at the helm.
“The expectations for me is to see if can I do it again and show last year wasn’t just beginner’s luck,” she said with a laugh.