Bresnahan book brought to the big screen

March 6, 2018
Kathy Bresnahan and Helen Hunt

Kathy Bresnahan will be on hand to sign copies of “The Miracle Season” at the UW-Platteville Bookstore on Saturday, March 10 from 11 a.m. until 12 p.m. The bookstore will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The Hollywood version of coach Kathy Bresnahan’s 2011 Iowa state champion volleyball team will soon be coming to a big screen near you.

Filming of “The Miracle Season” a movie based on Bresnahan’s upcoming book of the same name concluded in Vancouver, B.C. in August, and is on the fast track to hit theaters this April. The book was released in February.

The movie chronicles the tragic death of Caroline “Line” Found and the Iowa City West volleyball team’s emotional journey toward the 2011 state championship despite the stunning loss of their standout leader.

Found, the starting setter and an honorable mention All-State selection on West’s 2010 state championship team, died in a moped accident Aug. 11, 2011, just before the start of her senior year. To compound the tragedy, 12 days later Caroline’s mother, Ellyn, died of pancreatic cancer, two days before the Trojans’ season opener.

“Caroline Found was such a unique young woman, one of those student–athletes that come along about once every 15 years; a personality that lights up the school,” said Bresnahan. “She loved to make others laugh, feel good about themselves and feel included. She embraced everyone and had a way of making you feel as if you were the most important person in the world when you were with her."

“Her death shocked the community and my players were devastated and reeling with grief. Volleyball without Caroline was unfathomable. Stepping onto that court each day was painstakingly difficult as the court that represented Line. It became a symbol of loss. How those 16- and 17-year-old girls pushed through was the most incredible act of strength, determination and resolve that I have ever witnessed in sports. They refused to let Caroline down. They had to have a state championship for her, even though it was not anything I would let them say out loud. I would always emphasize ‘we should play like Line,’ but never ‘let’s win for Line.’”

Bresnahan is a native of Cuba City and a 1980 graduate of UW–Platteville, where she had a Hall of Fame playing career before going into teaching and coaching. She was inducted into the UW–Platteville Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

Bresnahan was the head volleyball coach at Iowa City West for 22 seasons until she stepped down in the spring of 2014. She was the coach at Benton High School for four seasons before that.

Award-winning actress Helen Hunt will be playing the role of Bresnahan. Hunt, 54, has won four Emmys and four Golden Globes, and the 1998 Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in the movie “As Good As It Gets.”

“I was fortunate enough to go to L.A. and spend some time with Helen prior to shooting,” said Bresnahan. “She is a quality person and dedicated to her craft, the consummate professional. She would even call me from Vancouver to go over scenes in order to correctly get in the same mind set as I would have been in at the time. She had me talk to her vocal coach, video tape how I walked and record every single one of her lines in the movie. She wanted to get it right.”

Bresnahan also flew to Vancouver twice this summer to watch filming.

“It was weird watching her play me,” said Bresnahan. “A couple times it hit me that OMG, this is Helen Hunt, an Oscar winner, playing me. But for the most part, she was such a regular person that I never really thought much about it."

“The whole thing was a surreal experience. It was like going through a wormhole and watching your life unfold in a different reality. Every single item on the set was eerily duplicated, from clothing and jewelry we wore to reproducing our gym as well as the state tournament venue. Even the sport court and scoreboards used at the state tournament were exact replicas.”

While Bresnahan admits the storyline of the movie isn’t an exact replica of the actual events, the coach said scriptwriters stayed true the major details of the story.

“The storyline varies in parts so that was weird,” she said. “There were times I wanted to jump up and yell, ‘but that didn’t really happen.’ But all in all, the director and producers did a fantastic job of conveying the emotion of the season and I think audiences will love the movie, just bring lots of tissues.”

As expected, the team struggled early in the season after Found’s stunning death, losing its first two matches. But with Found’s best friend, senior Kelley Fliehler, stepping into her role at setter, a position she’d never played before, West started winning once again. The Trojans put together a 17-match winning streak, which including two wins over Dubuque Wahlert, the No. 1 ranked team in Iowa’s 3A class at the time.

The Women of Troy ultimately went on to repeat as Iowa’s state champions, defeating nationally ranked Iowa City High in the 4A championship match, coming back from a two sets to none deficit and surviving three match points in the decisive fifth set.

“What I learned from those girls was that love is an amazing motivator,” said Bresnahan. “Our mutual love for Line and each other carried us through that season and beyond. To this day we are whole when we’re together. No one that didn’t stand on our court that season will ever understand fully what we went through and our bond will never be broken.”

Bresnahan and Caroline’s father, Ernie Found, began to draw interest from Hollywood film producers after HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel did a story on Caroline and the team in the fall of 2012.

“After HBO’s Real Sports aired our story, many film producers contacted Ernie and I about making this into a movie,” said Bresnahan. “As they flew into Iowa City and visited with us, Ernie and I realized it was too soon to consider a movie. The wounds were too fresh.”

Another year passed and others in their community talked about writing about their season, according to Bresnahan — people who hadn’t even been to a single match that year.

“Me writing the book was an attempt to tell what really happened from our perspective,” said Bresnahan.

When LD Entertainment, one of the first groups that flew out to talk about a possible movie, got wind of Bresnahan’s endeavor, they purchased the option for the book before it was even close to being completed.

“I’m a coach, not a writer, so getting the book to this point took hundreds of hours and revisions until we’re now at the point that KCI Publishing in Stevens Point, with great editing by Betsy Thorpe, is ready to publish,” said Bresnahan. “You have to remember, this isn’t my story, so it took a long time for every senior on that 2011 team to read the manuscript and add their suggestions. I hope I did a decent enough job of portraying that amazing journey so the reader is inspired to push through their darkest hours. And I hope I did justice in honoring Caroline Found.”

Bresnahan has established the Live Like Line Foundations to financially help kids participate in activities so they can feel included. “Just like Line always did,” said the coach. “I’m very proud that proceeds from the book will help make that dream a reality for many young people in our community.”

Bresnahan compiled a record of 671–205 in her 26 seasons — 22 at West and four at Benton. She led West to eight state tournaments, including the back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 and was named Prepvolleyball.com’s 2011 National Coach of the Year. She retired from coaching after the 2013 season.

Written by: Jason Nihles, sports@theplattevillejournal.com

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