Sometime around Labor Day in 2016, Alicia Andersen wanted to see the sunflower fields outside Lawrence, Kan., and she wanted her daughter, Baylie, to join her.
Baylie was reluctant — already immersed in class assignments, DECA meetings, and volleyball practice at Lee’s Summit West — but her mother talked her into going and the trip yielded a bounty of memories and an important life lesson.
“I said the night before, ‘Mom I don’t know if I can go today,”’ Baylie said. “And we ended up going, and it was just one of the most beautiful things we both had ever seen. And I remember that to this day. I try to remind myself that it’s important to take the time I have and spend it with the people I love and maybe not worry about the circumstances of each day.”
Baylie, a senior middle blocker for the Titans, shared that story last December at her mother’s funeral, after Alicia’s battle against cancer ended. The story also was memorialized on the pink T-shirts which featured a sunflower with a volleyball in the middle, that players wore Oct. 9 during the 10th annual “Dig for the Cure” at West.
It’s a design that not only honors the memory of Andersen’s mother, but also symbolizes the bonds they shared.
Alicia played volleyball at Iowa State and for years helped organize Dig for the Cure, which helps raise awareness and money for the fight against cancer.
She chaired the event last year even as she battled cholangiocarcinoma, an extremely rare cancer that attacks the bile ducts, and stood with Baylie during the ceremony honoring cancer survivors and fighters despite being seriously ill at the time.
Baylie said that night was tough, but it was even tougher this year as she stood with her grandfather, Allen Reynolds, to honor Alicia’s memory.
“It’s probably even more difficult now remembering that time last year and remembering how sick she was,” Baylie said. “But it’s also a great time to remember her in a positive light and the strength she fought through to be here.”
Volleyball has always been an outlet of escape and source of support for Andersen, but there were times when she doubted if she could keep playing the sport that would remind her so much of her mother. In the end, she realized that’s why she needed to keep playing.
That, and the love and encouragement she received from her teammates, who in turn are encouraged and inspired by her positive attitude.
Of course, Baylie’s fellow Titans aren’t the only ones who admire her. She also was crowned West’s Homecoming Queen last week, a nod to her widely beloved status.
“She has just helped me be a better person,” West senior setter Santana Lewis said. “That’s what helps me get through stuff. I’m just like, ‘OK, this girl has been through this much stuff, and if she can get through it, I can get through it, too.’”
After the ceremony, Baylie sang the national anthem then channeled all her emotions into the match against Lee’s Summit North.
She was a force at the front of the net with several point-scoring blocks and also served back-to-back aces at one point during the Titans’ 25-10, 24-26, 25-15 victory.
That was the last of four matches on a night that also included a silent auction and a raffle.
Organizers expect this year’s Dig for the Cure event to raise more than $20,000, which will go to three organizations — the Center for Hope and Healing, an organization focused on helping individuals with illness and their families; Bags of Fun Kansas City, which provides toys to children with cancer and other long-term illnesses; and the Children’s Mercy Hospital Facility Dog Program/Canine Assistants, a therapy dog organization.
“I’m happy that we pulled off the win and glad we were able to have this night where we could join together as a community,” Baylie said. “Because that’s really what the important part was — joining together for a common cause to fight cancer.”