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Volleyball: W-K playing with heavy hearts, many memories

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Wabasha-Kellogg head coach Tara Biever talks with players during a subsection championship match against Mabel-Canton in 2012. Biever died last October after a battle with uterine cancer. The Falcons have dedicated this season to her memory.
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An empty chair sits at the end of the Wabasha-Kellogg bench each time the Falcons have a volleyball match this season.

Fifteen words are surrounded by quote marks on the backrest.

Fifteen words that define who and what the Falcons are playing for.

It reads: "A legacy is not what you leave with people, but what you leave in people," — T. Biever.

"Mrs. Biever taught us to have strength and persevere through everything," Falcons senior captain and middle hitter Kaylee Horsman said. "If she could push through everything she went through, then we could push through anything.

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"She always said ‘stay strong and hold your heads high.’"

That’s how the Falcons are playing this season, with heads held high. Their 19-7 record, including a perfect 11-0 mark en route to a Three Rivers Conference championship, and their confidence heading into the Section 1A playoffs this week, can be traced back to Mrs. Biever.

Tara Biever passed away nearly a year ago, on Oct. 30, 2017, at just 51 years old, four days after the Falcons’ season ended. She died after what her players and peers called a quiet, but graceful battle with cancer.

She taught in Wabasha-Kellogg schools for 17 years and coached volleyball and track and field. She guided the Falcons to their only state volleyball championship, in 2010.

"Tara had a passion for developing deep relationships with her students and players," said Michelle Evers, who served as Biever’s assistant for five years before becoming head coach this season. "She always took the time to ask them simple questions like, ‘how was your day?’ She really cared about each player.

"She invested her time in kids. And she truly cared about every one of them. She helped out her students in ways people aren’t even aware of. For example, the day after Tara died, a high school student came up to me and told me how Tara had purchased clothes for her and bought her supplies out of her own pocket."

The Falcons — most of whom knew Biever since the first time they touched a volleyball, or even longer — have dedicated this season to her memory.

The empty chair at the end of the bench, and the peach-colored hair ties and shoelaces (peach is the color of the ribbon used to raise awareness for uterine cancer) are all reminders to the Falcons that their coach is with them.

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Their eight seniors want to go out on a high note, not only for themselves, but for her.

"She announced (that she had cancer) to our team in the spring of (2017)," Horsman said. "She was so optimistic. She had a great treatment plan and she even ran our summer program. By the fall, she couldn’t come to a lot of practices or matches, but she always watched film.

"We knew she was watching us play and was always with us in spirit."

‘HER PASSION SHINED THROUGH’

Biever knew how to build a program, too. She worked hard with the youth players and coaches in Wabasha and Kellogg to implement drills and systems that would help young players develop into good high school players, and good teammates.

She was happy to have her daughter Kalyn, a former all-state setter for the Falcons who played on their state title team, serve as an assistant coach. Kalyn is still assisting the Falcons.

"There definitely have been times that it’s been really hard for Kalyn. And how could it not be?" Evers said. "Kalyn is the strongest person I know. Last year, when her mom was really sick and in the hospital, Kalyn didn’t miss a practice or match. She was there for those girls.

"Some times have been harder than others, I’m sure. ... Kalyn is a lot like Tara — very passionate, positive, fun and full of energy. She cares a ton about each player in the gym."

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She also shares her mom’s competitive spirit.

"Tara was very competitive," Evers said. "Her passion for the game shined through in every practice and match. She had a great sense of how to motivate her girls to try their best. She would hold her team accountable and expect a lot from them. But she did this in a very genuine way.

"I think Tara has been on our minds throughout this entire season. For myself, there have been many times I wish I could talk to her, get advice on game situations, and just spend time together."

Biever’s teams were annually among the best in the Three Rivers Conference and in Section 1A. From 2008-2017, the Falcons averaged 21.8 wins per season, including two seasons of 30 or more victories. They advanced to five subsection finals in that time, four section finals, and one state tournament (2010).

"Tara was a fierce competitor who prepared as hard as any coach I know," said Mabel-Canton head coach Lonnie Morken, whose teams would often face W-K in the postseason. "You always know it’ll be a battle when you play Wabasha-Kellogg. She cared with so much passion for her kids. She was just a fantastic lady.

"Their season this year is a reflection of the program she built. As a coach, that’s the ultimate compliment."

Related Topics: PEOPLEVOLLEYBALL
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