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North volleyball formed strong sister bond

Staff Photo: John Bohn The North Gwinnett High School volley ball team features four sets of sisters, from left to right are, Marry Kay and Miller Howard, Heather and Hannah Shelton, Kristina and Erica Stinson, Courtney and Nicole Levitz.

Staff Photo: John Bohn The North Gwinnett High School volley ball team features four sets of sisters, from left to right are, Marry Kay and Miller Howard, Heather and Hannah Shelton, Kristina and Erica Stinson, Courtney and Nicole Levitz.

SUWANEE -- It's been called the "goofiest group of girls ever," and aside from the team's 11-match winning streak, this season at North Gwinnett volleyball will likely be remembered for the sister act.

Between the junior varsity and varsity teams, North had four sets of sisters, including one set of twins, and two moms who coached their daughters.

Most of the sisters said their sibling is a close friend, and were proud that they're considered inseparable, and none of them mentioned any kind of squabble.

"I think this is probably the goofiest group of girls ever, across the board," said assistant coach Christy Howard, who has daughters Miller and MaryKay in the program. "They just feed off of each other in a fun-loving way, and they're there for each other."

Christy Howard said her daughters originally wanted to have their own sports, and didn't start playing volleyball until high school, but now share a common bond.

It's a tradition that's been passed down from alumni who have left the program, such as Cassie Shelton, the sister of twins Heather and Hannah Shelton, who graduated last year.

Two of the sisters who are seniors -- Miller Howard and Kristina Stinson -- said they made a point to appreciate this season because next year, when they're in college, they won't spend as much time around their younger sister.

"Granted, we live together," Stinson said. "But it's even better than we get to practice together. Then we have a lot more to talk about, and it gave us an opportunity to bond more because next year we won't have an opportunity to be together."

Added Miller Howard about her sister: "I'm really glad, because she's a freshman this year and she got to play and we got to have this time with her before I went away. If she would have come next year, it would have been a missed chance."

While the team was ranked No. 4 in the state entering the state playoffs, Christy Howard said the memorable season on the court was made more special because of the family dynamic, and how many of the older sisters served as mentors or leaders.

"It's such a family in more sense than they're sisters, because they're teammates and it forces the older sister to be that leader," Christy Howard said.

Heather Shelton said the typical family atmosphere that is built with most teams took on an added dimension.

"We all formed a good relationship because we're together every day after school," Heather Shelton said. "All of the sisters made it more unique, because we're like a family, but you also have your actual family members."

The Levitzes said they used to have separate lives because they played different sports, but now they practice together in the yard.

Courtney, a junior, said she figured it was easier for her sister, Nicole, a freshman, to acclimate to high school and the volleyball program than when Courtney was a freshman. Courtney said typical introductions and icebreakers some teams need at the beginning of the season were not necessary.

"It was easier, not as much pressure, not as awkward," Courtney said.

The only pair of sisters on varsity together were the Stinsons, Kristina, a senior, and Erica, a freshman.

Kristina said their personality is almost exactly the same, and they both try to always find the fun in everything. That made having Erica on the court that much more special.

"I love volleyball enough already, but having your sister on the court with you makes you love it that much more," Kristina said. "We're almost the same person."

The community and family feel that resonates throughout Suwanee and North is evident on this team, Kristina said.

"It's incredible we get to reflect that through our volleyball program," she said.

Especially since they weren't all biological sisters.

"We'll always be a family regardless of our situation at the end of the season," Kristina said. "We created such strong relationships. That will carry us throughout the rest of our lives."