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Infusion of talent, enjoyable atmosphere have Flowery Branch in a position to play for volleyball state championship
Flowery Branch volleyball 2021
Flowery Branch's Ashlyn Browning (5) puts the ball over for a point against Pickens in the Class 4A state quarterfinals on Oct. 24 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Bill Murphy

Flowery Branch volleyball coach Taylor Bowman has avoided what she calls the ‘copy-and-paste’ approach to leadership. 

From costume dress-up day for practice to players performing daily affirmations after time on the court is complete, the second-year coach of the Lady Falcons has had the ‘Ted Lasso effect’ on their program.

“My No. 1 focus is on building a good culture with the volleyball program,” Bowman said. “I want them to enjoy this time playing together and making memories.” 

On Saturday, Flowery Branch will have a chance to make school history, playing in the Class 4A championship match against Marist at the Lake Point Sports Complex in Cartersville. 

“I am so proud of the coaches and players,” Flowery Branch athletics director Jimmy Lawler said. “The passion that they bring to the sport is incredible.”

The high school, open since 2002, previously has won state championships in boys cross country (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013) and boys tennis (2018). 

Flowery Branch earned its spot in the state-championship volleyball match by beating Northwest Whitfield in four sets in a best-of-five match on Oct. 28 in Cartersville. 

That day was also a day to have fun and not get caught up in going through the motions of simply playing volleyball. 

The end result was a resounding victory. 

For the trip to the Final Four, the coach, who is known for wearing bell bottom pants, said the team ended up having to take a party bus on the two-hour trip each way, since plans for a shuttle bus were impacted with World Series demand in Atlanta, she said.

Flowery Branch’s program has responded to Bowman’s mindful approach to leadership by winning 12 of 14 sets in the postseason, including home wins against Druid Hills in the first round and Pickens in the quarterfinals. 

Now, the Lady Falcons need to win one more best-of-five match to bring home their first volleyball state championship.

“For this to be the way I end my senior year, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Flowery Branch senior Brianna Moore said. 

Bowman has incorporated her interest in psychology, which is her college degree, into molding teenage girls and helping them reach their full potential. 

Since arriving in 2020 from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bowman has insisted on players allowing grace for themselves if it’s a bad day or a lost match. 

Bowman’s first taste of coaching came when she was a senior at Chattanooga Christian School in Tennessee. 

The middle school program was without a person in charge, she recalls. 

So, the then-17-year-old took up that title and found a calling for coaching volleyball. 

Since then, Bowman’s career has included a pair of head-coaching posts in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before moving to Hall County with her husband.

“My heart is for working with girls in middle school and high school,” Bowman said. “I just want to love on these girls.”

The biggest piece to a championship run for Flowery Branch, Bowman said, was the addition of outside hitter Ashlyn Browning and Moore, both life-long friends who moved in from Lanier Christian Academy prior to the 2020 season. Both athletes are part of the Ivester Dual Enrollment program and have been taking college courses through Brenau University and Lanier Tech. 

While Moore was able to play right away, as a junior, Browning was not eligible to play varsity last season, due to living outside the school’s district, Bowman said. 

So, Browning went about playing junior varsity her junior season, even though she was without question the best player in the entire program. 

“Ashlyn is the perfect person, she’s so loving and kind-hearted,” Moore said. “She’s turned into such a great leader.”

The Lady Falcons’ coach remembers seeing Ashlyn in her first practice with the program, ‘crushing’ the ball on the return. 

“All I had to do was tweak things just a little bit,” Bowman said. 

During the regular season, Flowery Branch’s vibrant coach put together a challenging schedule to instill confidence and sharpen their skills. 

In the Hall County championship, the Lady Falcons fell in the final against North Hall. 

Flowery Branch finished second in the Area 8-4A tournament, which was good enough to lock up the home playoff game in the first round, then a return home in the third round against Pickens. 

Along with sharpening their skills on the floor, Flowery Branch’s players have formed unbreakable bonds through daily affirmations after practice. 

Bowman said players sit in a circle and she points out a different player every day that they all say something good about, which has to be totally unrelated to volleyball.

“We have zero drama on our team, which is a large part of our success,” Bowman said.

As for the opponent in the championship match, Flowery Branch’s coach isn’t concerned. 

Even though the Lady Falcons do evaluate film, they’re only focused on their own performance. 

“My philosophy is to only worry about what happens on our side of the court,” Bowman said. 

As for Marist, it has won three volleyball championships since 2014. 

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