Coach Jason Donnelly knew he had a special player by the reaction of Frances Carlson’s Laguna Blanca teammates when he moved her into the starting lineup midway through last year’s girls volleyball season.
“As Frances’ confidence and ability in the volleyball world grew, her teammates just continued to love seeing her do well,” Donnelly said. “That’s a sign to me of a really high-character kid when even people that she might be playing in front of are rooting for her to do well.
“All Frances wants to do is help the team in any way she can.”
Carlson, now a junior at Laguna, was recognized for her high character this week when she was presented the Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Award by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table. The ceremony was conducted virtually on the organization’s web site, sbart.org, since its weekly press luncheons have been put on pause by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Womble, who died in 2017 at age 80, gained induction into the Round Table’s Hall of Fame in 1994 for his contributions to local sports. He created an ethics award for student-athletes at each of eight area schools, making the first presentation in 2002.
“The recipient must be a junior, that way they can carry on as leaders,” Womble said at the time. “They must be someone who consistently displays virtues of honesty, respect, loyalty, reliability, teamwork and good sportsmanship.”
Carlson, the daughter of Ashley Tidey and Tom Carlson, fits the definition well, Donnelly said.
“Frances is the kind of kid that everybody roots for,” he said. “She is a tenacious competitor who is universally respected by her teammates and coaches. She is of the highest character and does everything with a huge smile on her face.
“She is extremely respectful to everyone, and constantly puts others’ needs before her own. She is a joy to coach.”
Donnelly said Carlson was surprised when informed that she had made the varsity as a sophomore last year.
“At the time, I told her that she probably wasn’t going to be playing a whole lot because we had a pretty good team with a lot of experience,” he said. “And yet, Frances showed up every single day and played her role perfectly in practice.
“In about the middle of the season, she found herself serving and passing and defending in critical league and playoff matches.”
Carlson, who also plays on Laguna’s beach volleyball and soccer teams, received All-Frontier League honorable mention as a sophomore while helping the Owls win all 10 of their conference matches. They finished with an overall record of 18-5.
“I didn’t know Mr. Womble personally, but from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve read, he was a really incredible person,” she said. “I’m so honored to be receiving this award in his name, and of course a huge thank you to all of my coaches at Laguna: Mr. (Kevin) Shertzer for soccer, Jordon (Dyer) for beach volleyball, and of course Mr. Donnelly for indoor volleyball, but also as a life coach.
“He’s seen me grow since I was very young. He helped me grow as a player and as a person, both on and off the field.
“And of course my parents, my family. I’m so grateful to them for the constant support, driving me to practices and to games. They’re just always there for me.”
Carlson’s attributes go way beyond the playing court. She’s maintained a grade-point average of 4.23 with Advanced Placement courses in English, U.S. History and Latin. She was inducted into the Santa Barbara Literary Society. She is also a Scholastic Writing Gold Key member who has earned a national silver medal for her writing.
She serves as the creative director and as a contributing author for the school’s magazine, The Fourth Estate.
Carlson, who has logged more than 300 hours of community service, has volunteered at homeless shelters and with Laguna’s Sock Club, which organizes projects to help at-risk communities in Santa Barbara.
She’s also participated in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar and has served as junior executive for Laguna Blanca’s TEDx program.
“Frances is the kind of student-athlete that every coach dreams of working with,” Donnelly said. “She has an outstanding work ethic and plays whatever role is needed to help the team succeed.”