Oak Mountain’s Grace Burgess named 2023 Coach of the Year

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

Many of Shelby County’s volleyball teams found success in 2023, but they wouldn’t have happened without the work of each team’s tremendous coaches.

Thompson had an incredible bounce-back season under Judy Green, turning last season’s area tournament disappointment into an undefeated run through area play and a spot in the Elite 8, where they only lost to the eventual state champion.

Carly Cline took charge of Briarwood as an interim coach and turned the Lions into an area runner-up that reached super regionals.

At Pelham, Perry Robinson continued his phenomenal run of success with another area title and came close to another Elite 8 place.

Spain Park also continued its success in what proved to be Kellye Bowen’s final season with the Jags and won its fifth area championship and reached its third Elite 8 in the last four seasons.

But when you take a bird’s eye view at more than just the 2023 season, one performance stands out above the rest for the work they have done to get their program to where it is now.

That coach is Oak Mountain’s Grace Burgess, the 2023 Shelby County Coach of the Year.

Burgess finished her fourth season with the Eagles, and early in her tenure, Oak Mountain could not break through a very difficult area and reach their goal of going to super regionals and beyond.

However, they started showing signs of progress last season by reaching the area finals as a three-seed to go to super regionals.

This year, though, Burgess and the Eagles set a goal to continue improving, and that started with the senior class, which was her first that she coached for all four seasons.

“They are kids that truly understand what this program is about,” Burgess said prior to the season. “They’ve heard me now for three and a half years, and they’ve bought in and they represent what our program means in such a wonderful way.”

Burgess has built a strong culture at Oak Mountain, one that extends from the top of the roster down. This year, they had a chance to show it with great results on the volleyball court.

The Eagles reached the top 10 of Class 7A with a phenomenal run through the regular season, taking down top teams like Thompson and Hoover that they lost to in previous seasons.

But when the games mattered the most in area play, that’s when Oak Mountain was the strongest.

The Eagles went a perfect 6-0 in a tough area that included reigning champion Spain Park, another rising program in Chelsea as well as Hewitt-Trussville.

Burgess’ steady hand helped her get the most out of her players and drive the team forward. The Eagles encountered challenges even in the games that they won, but she wasn’t afraid to point those out and push her players to be their best when it mattered the most late in matches.

That helped Oak Mountain grab home-court advantage and host the area tournament, and the Eagles gave it their all to reach the super regionals. They came back from dropping the opening set in the semifinals to Hewitt-Trussville to win the match 3-1 and go to Huntsville.

Then, in an instant classic that came down to the final points of the tiebreaking fifth set, Oak Mountain pushed Spain Park to the limit and nearly claimed the area title.

While that loss forced the Eagles into an unlucky draw against the nationally-ranked state runners-up Bob Jones, it didn’t take away from a memorable season for Oak Mountain driven by the progress that Burgess has made at the helm.

She has turned the Eagles into one of the top programs in the highest classification in the state and poised the program for great things to come. For that reason and more, she can now add Shelby County Coach of the Year to her resume.