See how this Alabama high school volleyball coach led her team to a 20-year state title streak, overcoming cancer along the way

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Bayside Coach Ann Schilling (Ben Johnson / Bham Now)

It is likely a record that will never be broken in Alabama or nationally.

Bayside Academy — a high school with less than 300 students located in Daphne, Alabama on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay — currently holds the longest state championship streak in the nation at 20 years in a row.

In addition to the two-decade-long streak, the Lady Admirals have won 30 state volleyball titles — the most of any other high school volleyball program in the U.S.

At the helm of 27 of their 30 championships is Hall of Fame Coach Ann Schilling.

Going for 21 in a Row

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Ann Schilling Stands in Bayside Academy Gym (Ben Johnson / Bham Now)

How does Bayside Academy do it? 

We traveled to Daphne to talk to the coach herself, who has a chance to add to the streak at the upcoming Alabama High School Athletic Association Volleyball Championships on October 25-27 at the Birmingham Crossplex

When Bham Now caught up with Coach Schilling in August, she was preparing her team, in Class 6A for the first time, for its season opener against Class 7A Oak Mountain High School.

For about 40 minutes, we got to see her run practice. It reminded us of a conductor coaxing beautiful music from an orchestra.

As the winningest AHSAA volleyball coach in Alabama history, Schilling told us what’s behind the program’s success. 

Hint: It’s the kids.

Being a Great Teammate

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Bayside Academy Volleyball team. (Ben Johnson/Bham Now)

“I’ve had a lot of great kids come through the program and they have really bought into what we’ve been doing for 30 some odd years. They are very committed and work hard. We stress things like being a great teammate,” she said.

AHSAA Associate Executive Director and Volleyball Director Kim Vickers has seen Schilling and the Bayside team from two very different perspectives, as a parent and administrator.

“I go back to when my daughter played volleyball,” Vickers described. “I remember seeing Bayside play back in the early 2000s. We met up with them at the state tournament. At that time, our little school at Horseshoe Bend High School was way outnumbered when we faced  Bayside. And so from that point forward I’ve known about Bayside Academy and Ann Schilling and what an awesome program it is. I’ve witnessed it on both levels as a parent and as a director here at the AHSAA.”

Fighting Cancer

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Shirt produced by Bayside Academy volleyball team for their coach Ann Schilling (Ann Schilling)

For Schilling and Bayside Academy, achieving a two-decade-long championship streak wasn’t without its challenges. 

Perhaps the biggest was in 2018 when Schilling learned she had Stage 4 Breast Cancer. 

“It was a big punch in the gut.”

“The girls and the community rallied around me big time. It was very heartwarming to see the amount of people who reached out to me over the course of six months when I was going through treatment.”

On her first day of chemo treatments, Coach Schilling’s Lady Admirals all wore a t-shirt with one of her favorite quotes inscribed on the back.

“All we need is Him.”

“It was very touching. It (fighting cancer) totally changed my life for the better. I told God, if He was gonna keep me alive – change me into who He wanted me to be, instead of who I wanted to be. He did.”

And Coach Schilling was not alone.

“Her faith has been amazing through the whole process. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.”  said Vickers. 

Because she’s so well known in the volleyball community, not only did Coach Schilling’s players, school and community support her, the volleyball community statewide and across the nation  supported her as well,  according to Vickers.

Volleyball in Alabama is Growing

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Bayside Academy playing Oak Mountain High School (Ben Johnson/Bham Now)

What makes Bayside Academy’s volleyball records all the more impressive is the rapid growth of girls’ volleyball. The sport is second to Track and Field as far as the number of girls participating in high school sports across the nation. 

“Volleyball has grown immensely,” added Coach Schilling. “It doesn’t take rocket science. You walk into any club facility, our state championship or any big tournament in Birmingham, and there are tons and tons of people and courts. It’s grown rapidly over the course of 10 years.”

Coming to Birmingham

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(AHSAA/Facebook)

Will Bayside Academy be there to make it 21 championships in a row? Coach Schilling, who has coached Bayside to a state title in Class 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and this year – if the streak continues it will be in Class 6A for the first time, stressed the streak could have ended multiple times over the years.

“We have had some moments where some big players have made some big plays we could have easily lost quite a few in the finals or earlier.”

One thing we do know — whether it is in the playoffs or championships — wherever Bayside Academy plays, they’ll make history.

See them in action

On October 25-27, the AHSAA Volleyball Championships will return to the Crossplex in Birmingham. The three-day event features teams from across the state competing for seven state championships.

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2004