Thursday , October 12, 2017 - 5:00 AM
Senior Aubri Whatcott sets the ball during practice with the Syracuse High School volleyball team on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. Two basketball jerseys hang over the school gym that honor Aubri's older brothers, Daulton and Jaxon, who died in a plane crash in 2014.
SYRACUSE — They’re impossible to ignore once you walk inside the gymnasium at Syracuse High school.
Basketball jerseys of Daulton and Jaxon Whatcott hang on the wall on the northeast corner.
The two brothers were killed in a plane crash in 2014, but their memories have been immortalized so no student can forget.
As a member of Syracuse’s varsity volleyball team, senior Aubri Whatcott spends hours upon hours in that gym with practices and games. She was 13 years old when Daulton and Jaxon, her older brothers, died.
“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “I don’t think it happened sometimes … Especially right after it happened, I always thought, ‘Daulton’s just at college or something and Jaxon’s at basketball camp,’ because half the time that’s what they were doing. And so when I walk in (the gym), I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
It might seem Whatcott would have difficulty performing well in such an environment. Focus is pivotal to an athlete’s success, but how can one focus with glaring reminders of such a tragic accident? Especially on particularly challenging days, like the ones where she catches herself doodling their names, or an image of a plane, during class.
Whatcott manages. In fact, she excels. She’s the team’s most reliable server, accounting for 189 points — 74 more than the next-closest Titan. She leads the team in aces (49) and has a serving success rate of 88.4 percent.
She has totaled 447 assists, averaging 6.9 per set.
Corrie Vigil, now in her second year as the head coach at Syracuse, said Whatcott “runs the show” for the first-place Titans. Syracuse boasts an overall record of 22-2 and is a perfect 8-0 in Region 1 play. .
“She’s our first server, so she brings that fire when we very first start, scores some points right off the bat,” Vigil said.
Vigil said Whatcott has “a great, contagious personality.”
“Body language is important, and for the most part, she’s bubbly, she’s smiley … she’s fun to be around,” Vigil said. “I think that itself sets an example for her peers.”
Whatcott said the jerseys inspire her because she wants to make her brothers proud.
“They’re my cooler older brothers. All my friends had crushes on them, stuff like that,” she said. “I want to make them proud, be like, ‘Oh, yeah, Aubri, you did really good.’”
As Whatcott reminisces about her brothers, she can’t help but laugh at the things that used to frustrate her. Daulton and Jaxon slept in the basement while she slept upstairs, and the two were always coming upstairs to her room to watch TV. They’d take the remote from her while she was watching one of her shows and turn it to something else.
It eventually got to the point where she simply conceded the remote when they came.
They had their set spots on the sectional, and Jaxon had to have the corner seat because it was the biggest.
“He always sat in that one and I loved that spot and I never got it. He’s like, ‘I’m older, I get that spot,’” Whatcott said.
Whatcott believes she got her competitive drive from her older brothers. Daulton, Jaxon, her oldest brother, Dace, and her father would play basketball outside against each other. It was always Dace and Daulton against Jaxon and their father.
She said Daulton was “the ultimate crap talker.”
They would play volleyball in the backyard, and even though she was clearly the shortest, the net had to be raised to the level the boys wanted to play at. She got even by enforcing rules, like penalties for touching the net.
“I was like, ‘No, you touched the net. In real volleyball, that’s my point, so, no, give me the ball,’” she said. “I would just get super technical on them.
“They didn’t like that, but I got the point, so I don’t care.”
Whatcott’s father, Rhett Whatcott, believes volleyball has strengthened her since the accident. He said his daughter has strengthened the family through an increased outpouring of love.
“My wife and I have always thought this of her, but especially since the boys died; she’s become even more loving and more attentive,” he said. “This might embarrass her, but every day before she goes to school she comes and gives us a hug and tells us goodbye and love you.
“She probably does it mostly for us … but I feel like she tries to spend more time with us as parents and do more things with us, which is something we really appreciate because when you lose half your kids you need something. You need that attention.”