For upcoming senior Ally Dunston, there is an inseparable line between family and team when it comes to being successful at volleyball or anything else in life.
0ver the last few years, Ally has broadened her definition of family to include not only her personal family, but also the supportive peers and faculty at her school, her amazing volleyball coach, and the “sisters” she plays side-by- side with on the volleyball court. Together, Ally’s “family” has given her the support she needs to be successful and confident both on and off the court.
Ally began playing volleyball when she was just seven years old. “She was tall for her age and painfully shy,” says her mother. “I wanted her to be involved in something. I thought that volleyball might be a sport that she’d excel at and something that might bring her out of her shell.” Ally’s mother was right; Ally was a natural at volleyball and has since become a leader on her Snow Canyon High School team. “There was a time, not too long ago, that I wanted to quit though,” states Ally. “I got to the point where I thought I didn’t want to play anymore. Thankfully, my parents could see my talent and encouraged me to stick with it. I am very grateful to them for that. My volleyball experience has given me self-confidence, life-long friends, and important skills that will enable my success in college and the world beyond.”
Ally has never played a game without the attendance and support of her family members. “My dad is my biggest fan. He attends every game,” states Ally smiling. “I know he’s there because he wears his bright neon green hoodie and matching shoes. I can spot him instantaneously in the crowd.” Ally blushes and smiles as she adds, “He’s the loudest, craziest fan there. I can always hear him cheering above the crowd. He’s great fun!” It is obvious from the look on Ally’s face that this means a lot to her. But Ally’s dad isn’t the only fan in her family; her mother, sister, and grandpa are also regulars at her games. Even on out-of-town trips, Ally has always had the support of aunts, uncles, cousins, and any other family member living even remotely close to where she’s playing, who attend her games and cheer her on. “I’m lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive family backing me every step of the way!”
Ally knows that no matter where or when she plays a game, she doesn’t have to look too far into the crowd to see one of her own. This has given her a tremendous amount of confidence, which, in turn has helped her grow as an athlete.
“Snow Canyon High School is amazing,” says Ally. “EVERYONE attends EVERY sporting event. It means so much to me and the other girls on my team.” The administration, faculty, staff, and student body at Snow Canyon High School make supporting their own a top priority. “People at Snow Canyon don’t just attend the boy’s football and basketball games like they do at most schools. They attend ALL the games. This is one of the most exciting things about being a Warrior,” Ally states enthusiastically. “We have the biggest fan section of any school!”
Ally is very appreciative of the support and confidence given from her school. Even when the team plays away from home, there is still what Ally describes as a “large and loud” Snow Canyon High School crowd. Ally recalls a recent game they played at Desert Hills High School where the entire Snow Canyon High football team showed up to cheer on the volleyball team. “It was the coolest thing ever to look over and see our football team cheering the loudest of anyone else in the crowd. That really meant a lot to us; we loved it! I’ve heard that players from other teams are amazed, perhaps a bit jealous, that the Snow Canyon High School team has so many supporters.”
The support doesn’t stop at the end of the game. The next day teachers, who were unable to attend, ask her about her game, and custodians, office staff, administration, and anyone else she encounters offers high-fives and congratulations. “Snow Canyon High School is like a family; they are always there cheering and supporting and making us feel like we’re the best. I feel 100% supported. Whenever I play, I try to make my Snow Canyon family proud!”
“With the team, I have the sisters I’ve gained; I have lifelong friends,” states Snow Canyon High School volleyball player Nikenna Durante after the state championship game this past season. Ally shares these same feelings, “Instead of having just teammates, I have sisters. We all care about the success of one another. My teammates are my best friends. We have lunch together, have sleepovers during the summers and on weekends, and spend a lot of time outside of practice just talking and hanging out.”
Every year, as new sophomores join the team, every effort is made to ensure that ALL the girls feel like a part of the team family. No one is left out; everyone is included. Because of this camaraderie, Ally as well as the rest of the girls, have learned what it really means to be a team.
“Our team is amazing,” says Ally. “We are a real team in every sense of the word. We can give one another constructive criticism without fear of resentment, anger, or drama. We aren’t afraid to push each other, and that’s what makes everyone better.” Ally attributes her success and the success of her teammates to the fact that each player realizes that constructive criticism is for improving the team.
“One of the most important things I ever learned is that I never want to just play for me; I want to play for my teammates. And that has made all the difference,” shares Ally. “My successes are OUR successes. It’s not about the individual; it’s about all of us. This I what I want my teammates to remember most about me.”
Ally’s biggest mentor and mother on the volleyball court, is her coach, Alaina Parker. “Coach Parker hasn’t just taught us to be better volleyball players; she’s taught us how to be better individuals, and that’s important,” states Ally. “Coach Parker is willing to push you until you’re uncomfortable in order to make you better. My most valuable learning moment comes from this. It was my sophomore year, and we were practicing for the state tournament. I was new on the team and feeling like I’d had enough for one day. Coach Parker noticed my lack of commitment, called me out on it, and kicked me out of practice. She said that she wasn’t interested in my half effort. If I was going to be there and part of the team, I needed to give my full effort always. This was my changing poin; the point where I learned I didn’t just play for me, I played for everyone on the team. Volleyball is about being a team. As a team player, you give your all to EVERY play- including practices… I will remember that lesson in everything I do for the rest of my life.”
Together with the support of her regular and “extended family,” Ally Dunston has gained the confidence and skills necessary to be a leader both on and off the volleyball court. Her experience as a student athlete and member of a team has provided her with valuable life skills that will propel her through not only her high school years, but also through the many years to come. “Volleyball has made Ally what she is. She is driven and focused- a great kid. I’m so proud of her!” shares Ally’s mother. “I have watched Ally come out of her shell and grow into a team leader. She is an example to her teammates and those around her. She pushes through and plays even when she’s hurting,” states teammate Ina Fakahua.
“Playing volleyball has made all the difference. It has built my confidence, tested and expanded my limits, enabled me to come out of my shell, taught me not to take everything personally, and shown me the value of hard work. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without volleyball.”– Alexis Dunston • HSSI