HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — This has been a season to remember for the Mills Godwin High School girls volleyball team. Thanks largely to a veteran senior presence on the roster, the team finished its regular season with an 18-2 record and had 14 shutouts.
"The first year of playing, I had a much better time than playing soccer. That was the biggest thing," senior Ryan Taylor said.
Taylor has been in the program since 8th grade and credited the culture within Godwin High for much of her and the team's success.
"All the seniors, even being in 8th grade, were always looking out for me," she said. "They were always cheering and I just loved the overall energy of the gym."
Head Coach Chris Wakefield deserves some of the credit too. Wakefield has been coaching at Godwin for a decade and has had an impact on every player he has coached.
"He's done so much for so many players over the years," Taylor said. "I've been here for five years and he's been in the program before I got here. He's launched so many people throughout the years. It's incredible to see all the lives he's changed."
"He will do anything to help them," Tammy Wright, who had two daughters play for Coach Wakefield, said. "All you have to do is ask. He's always giving them extra practice, telling them exactly what they need. I call it the Wakefield Intervention. Both my girls have needed it."
This year has been unique and not just because of the team's record.
At age 12, Wakefield was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. The hereditary condition has worsened in the last two years.
"Sometimes, especially in the last year or so, he has to take more breaks. He sits down a lot more. The girls have noticed that," Wright said.
"It seems like my life bar is progressively going down," Wakefield admitted. "Every day I feel more tired."
At first, he hid his condition, not wanting to worry or distract his players.
But his mind changed when he felt his mood might change.
"I thought it was very important that they knew about my condition for whatever reason if something were to happen with my demeanor, they needed to understand maybe I was going through a bad day and it wasn't something personally they did," he said.
"I think that practices run the same, games run the same and that's a credit to him being an amazing coach and being able to work through a lot," Wright said.
Wakefield's kidney function is now below 10 percent. He will need to go on dialysis or get a transplant.
He was recently placed on VCU's transplant list, but there's no guarantee of when a match might be available. In the meantime, his medical bills have soared prompting the parents of his players to step up.
"He's been a wonderful influence on our girls so it just felt natural to want to help him in the best way we could," Wright said.
Godwin's final home game was senior night, but it also turned into something of a benefit for Coach Wakefield. A way to help the man who has helped all of them so much.
"It was difficult because I never wanted the help. A lot of it has to do with pride but also a fear of asking for help," Wakefield said. "One of the things this process has opened my eyes to is people want to help. I think us as humans, we have problems asking for the fear of not having someone answer the call."
His players and their parents have answered and have tried to give back as much as he has given them.
"I wouldn't be going where I am in college if I weren't in this program," Taylor said. "He's just an incredible person who's developed me so much athletically. I would not be where I am today without him."
"He's the best coach my girls have had," Wright said. "He's been a great influence on the Godwin volleyball girls, the Richmond Volleyball club girls. We love him and we're Team Wakefield."
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