For the girls on the Bakersfield Volleyball Club 12's team – this game is more than just a sport.
It’s a way of life. They call each other sisters, and they see their coach, Samantha Whittington as a second mom.
“As the season went on, this team just kept climbing and climbing, and getting better and better,” Samantha said.
Game after game, their bond continued to grow stronger.
Then, in May, everything changed.
Samantha remembers the day clearly.
“I got a phone call, and I remember exactly where I was. I went into my car, and I saw that I had a missed call,” she said.
That’s when she first heard the news.
Hallie Keese, a beloved teammate, was in a serious accident – one that required her to be airlifted three times.
Dianna Herman, a teammate’s mom, was the one who had called Samantha.
“First I spoke to Hallie’s mom… and we didn’t know the details. We knew her legs had been severely injured,” Dianna said.
The girls were beside themselves, but they wanted to show their love and support for Hallie and her family.
The team decided they needed to win their end of the year tournament, for the Keese family.
“For us to go out and win this would be amazing,” Taylor Henderson, Hallie’s teammate, said.
So, in June, sporting some ‘#HallieStrong’ t-shirts and smiles – the Bakersfield Volleyball Club 12s team competed in the SCVA Summer Soiree, playing against teams from all over the country.
It was an exhausting four days full of back to back games, but the girls used Hallie as their motivation, and inspiration.
“We would send Hallie videos, tell her that we love her, and we’re thinking of her,” Samantha said.
They played ‘#HallieStrong…’ and they took home 1st place.
“It was great because we got to win for her,” Ellie Cloyd, Hallie’s teammate, said.
Hallie was still in the hospital, but she was able to join her teammates on the podium through FaceTime.
That’s a moment this team says they will never forget.
After the win, Samantha and the team decided to surprise Hallie in the hospital on her 12th birthday.
They delivered her a gold medal, and had a tearful celebration.
Hallie was so happy to see her team again, that she wanted to return the favor.
When Hallie found out she was being released from the hospital early, she decided to surprise her team while 23ABC was filming this story.
While her team was posing for a group photo, Hallie walked through the gym doors using her crutches.
Everyone was surprised, and the gym filled with screams of pre-teen girls.
For the first time since the accident, this team shared a group hug outside the walls of a hospital.
Throughout this whole process, Hallie’s positive outlook never swayed.
“I don’t even know why they’re crying, because it’s just such a happy experience for me,” Hallie said.
“Bakersfield went out and won the whole thing, and they did it for me… it was just amazing.”
She kept a smile on her face the entire time – something her mom says, is not surprising of Hallie.
“She’s a pretty amazing child,” Christy Keese said. “It’s the epitome of who she is.”
Hallie still has a long road to recovery ahead of her, but her family could not be happier to have her back at home.