Willard High School volleyball has spent the last 40 years forging an identity as one of the top volleyball programs in the state. That period of excellence began with the 1980-1983 teams.

During those four seasons, Willard reached the state Final Four three times, winning the program’s first state championship in 1981. Future Olympian and 2001 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee Lori Endicott Vandersnick was the top player for the Tigers during this era.

Coached by Jackie Tekotte, the Tigers made their first Final Four appearance during the 1980 season, finishing fourth overall. The 1981 team captured the Class 3 title, defeating Festus (2-0) in the championship match to finish the season with a sparkling 21-3 record under head coach Diane Cline. After being absent from the Final Four in 1982, the 1983 squad returned and secured a fourth-place finish with both Cline and Endicott once again leading the way.

With a state championship and three Final Four appearances in hand, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Willard High School Volleyball 1980-83 Era as a member of its Class of 2023.

“I think the thing that made those teams so special was their unselfishness,” Cline said. “They very much wanted to succeed and didn’t care who got credit. In fact, it was quite the opposite, they rejoiced for the person who had a timely kill or a big block. They were good kids and good friends and enjoyed the camaraderie of being teammates.”

After Tekotte led the Tigers to their first Final Four appearance in 1980, Cline entered as head coach in 1981, and the program took off.

“It was my first teaching and coaching job, and I was so excited,” Cline said. “I knew that the volleyball team had gone to state the year before and I was thrilled to see how much talent was still there and not lost to graduation.”

But it wasn’t just the talent that made Willard so special. The Tigers also had tremendous support.

“Through my tenure at Willard, I was impressed by the family support the girls had and their determination to work hard and compete,” Cline said. “It was such a blessing to have such wonderful student-athletes to work with.”

While those early 80s teams put Willard volleyball on the statewide map, no one really understood the impact at the time.

“At the time we didn’t think about being the beginning of Willard’s volleyball success,” Cline said. “All we knew was we wanted to go to the Final Four or get back there and have a chance to win it all. Now it is such a privilege to look back and see that the hard work that we did together put down a firm foundation to build a great Willard volleyball program. Thankfully, there have been many great players and coaches to carry on our tradition.”

Endicott, who is now Lori Endicott Vandersnick, was one of those student-athletes. A three-time all-conference selection, Endicott Vandersnick eventually helped lead Nebraska to four Big Eight Conference titles and a national runner-up finish in 1986. The two-time Big Eight Player of the Year later helped the United States to a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

“There were some incredibly talented volleyball players, many of whom ended up as collegiate athletes,” Endicott Vandersnick said. “But it takes more than talented players. I remember tremendous leadership from the coaches and upperclassmen, as well as a group of selfless players that were willing to work hard because we simply loved playing the game.”

By the time Willard won its first state championship in 1981, Title IX had been around for nearly a decade. While they may not have realized it at the time, Willard volleyball was among an increasingly large group of female sport pioneers.

“When Title IX passed, a whole new world of experiences opened up for girls,” Cline said.  “I am so proud of the fact that from the meager opportunities I had as a little girl, we had grown programs that allowed some of these girls to have college paid for through sport; and, one even went on to gain international fame.

“I am thrilled when I see young girls out on softball or soccer fields, shooting a basket or making a good pass in volleyball.  Having opportunities is a wonderful thing for all kids.”

Endicott Vandersnick is thrilled she and her teammates are being recognized for their accomplishments.

“This was a special group for sure, and I’m so excited to be recognized with these incredible women,” she said. “When a team works hard, sacrifices, and is successful, it is so rewarding. But when that same team is recognized 40 years later for those successes, it brings a new level of pride and gratitude.”