There are many variations of underdogs, a sometimes overused sports cliche players, and teams, tend to lean on.

No one loves the phrase more than coaches. “No one thought we’d be here!”

In reality, one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott — who played major league baseball in the 1990s — would be considered a slam dunk.

The iconic 2000 movie, “Remember The Titans.” They were underdogs, too.

To a degree, Southside volleyball standout Bailey Vega could be classified as an underdog. After all, she wasn’t among the notable 6A-Central volleyball players coming back for the 2019 season.

She wasn’t on coach Natalie Throneberry’s radar after she succeeded coach Steve Haaser in January, either.

But here she is.

The first-year starting middle blocker has been a pleasant surprise for a team already loaded with talent.

“I feel like it’s more about the team,” Vega said. “I feel like we’re all underdogs in a way, because we lost a lot of seniors, and I didn’t feel like people would think we were going to be as good as we are.

“We’re still out here showing everyone that we’re still Southside.”

The Mavericks (14-5) conclude the first round of 6A-Central play today with a trip to Northside who, like Southside and Conway, are tied for a share of the conference lead.

It wasn’t as if Vega wasn’t getting her chance to mix and mingle with the Southside Mavericks’ volleyball team last year. She put in the time, took mental notes, and played every junior varsity match like it was her last.

“I had a lot of fun playing JV,” Vega said. “I was really even grateful that I was able to play JV. I got used to playing JV and that play varsity now. Even though I wasn’t on varsity, I learned a lot, and I slowly progressed my game to where I was able to play varsity.”

“Bailey really put a lot effort and energy into JV games,” Throneberry said. “She took that just as serious as our varsity players took varsity games, and it paid off.”

A year later, she picks up the newspaper — her name and picture plastered on the front page. She’s been a social media darling as well.

“It’s definitely different,” Vega said. “I haven’t been used to that, but it helps with the school spirit and people showing up to the games. Our student section this year has been crazy. I think having good school spirit helps us win games.”

The 5-foot-9 Vega leaned heavily on former standout Hannah Holland last fall. Even though she wasn’t in the team’s rotation, and rarely saw playing time, Vega was paying attention.

“The seniors last year played a big part in how much I learned from volleyball,” Vega said. “Watching Hannah Holland, I always said I wanted to be like here. She’s such a great role model. We play the same position, but even besides volleyball, she was such a good leader.

“She was always encouraging everyone, even if they weren’t on varsity.”

“She learned from Hannah Holland,” Throneberry said. “She learned, even from an underclassmen, watching Aleigha (Johnson) last year. She would sit on the sit on sidelines and look for spots that were open, She would tell them, ‘Hey, switch your blocking.’ She never considered it sitting on the bench.

“She saw her value, and her role, and put in the time and work to come up and be a varsity starter as a senior.”

Vega has no plans on playing beyond high school. Her destiny, she says with a gleam in her eye, is to become a school teacher.

But for now, Vega’s part of a Mavericks team that, when healthy, is hard to beat.

“She’s not going to let anyone question whether she belongs here,” Throneberry said. “We were playing Nixa (Missouri) the other day. They were a fantastic team all the way across the board, and she didn’t care. She wasn’t feeling well that day and she still came out swinging. She doesn’t care who is on the other side of the net; she’s going to do what she does.”

For the record, Vega finished 2018 with three kills and a block, appearing in just six sets.

Through 18 matches this season, the freckle-faced Vega, with dark hair and an outgoing personality, is fourth on the team with 83 kills, and she’s second only to Johnson in blocks with 22.

Bailey Vega made it.

“It’s really cool being on varsity this year,” she said. “I’ve waited a long time, so making your own memories with the varsity is really fun. We’re pretty successful this year.

“(But) I feel like we have so much more work to do.”

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