I guess when you get a few days off from playing matches you kind of let things slide. So I apologize for this update coming a little later than anticipated.
After our weekend of hosting a great tournament at the Corn Palace we had to quickly refocus and come back with a conference match against a very strong and nationally ranked (24) team in Dordt College. As we looked at film and then eventually as both teams were warming up we noticed something potentially could and would play a big factor in the match. Dordt is a very tall team across the front row all of the time. They ran a 6-2 offensive setup and in every front row position they had a not 1 player that was under 5' 11" (I think only 1 was 5'11" and the rest were all 6' and taller). We have 2-3 players with that kind of size. This was a match that we felt coming in was going to be controlled at the net and by the end of it Dordt clearly had the upper hand with their size. We did not find much success on sets to the antennaes as their double block on the right and left side was very good. However, we did have a lot of success in the middle of the court. Our middles did well when they got the ball and put Dordt in a lot of very difficult positions. If we only could have passed a little better I think we could have gotten them the ball a little more often and slowed down the speed of their blocking movements. Our success in the middle was not enough as we fell in 3 sets. Fortunately, we will get another chance to play them later next month and with our experiences against them as a bigger blocking team we will have the advantage of understanding how to hit around those big blockers and potentially how to use their size to our advantage by attacking the ball lower and off of their exposed arms to the edges of the court.
We left the Dordt match feeling that we didn't leave enough of ourselves out on the court, we held back for whatever reason. Was it an intimidation of a team that is better on paper or that we have struggled as of late and not overly confident with ourselves? We didn't know exactly what is was at the time but we knew we could figure it out. We didn't have time to dwell on it as we had leave the Dordt match behind us as the very next night we had to get right back up and play another match, this time against Presentation College.
We entered the Presentation match with the sour taste we had from the match the night before. We came out with a sense of purpose in our play at the start of the match and jumped out very quickly to big early lead in the first set. We went trying to focus on correcting the physical errors we committed the night before. There was a concsious effort put forth in making those changes. We were also fortunate that Presentation was not as big as Dordt; it actually turned out opposite as we were the team with the unbelievable size in the match. We controlled the tempo for pretty much the entire match. Presentation had a few good runs at times but never put us in real danger of feeling that we would lose any set. It was good to get the win and stop a nasty losing streak we were currently on. We still had some things to adjust and most importantly we had to build our team confidence that the hardwork does pay off.
After the Presentation match on Wednesday, we were fortunate to have 5 day period of time before our next match. We took that time to put together a new lineup together that would help solidify our serve receive passing while at the same time give us more offensive options. This was the only period of time during the season that if we were going to make any drastic changes it had to be now. It was great to get 4 practices in with the new setup and then to be able to come out and use it against conference foe Mt. Marty.
Our focus and level of energy was at a level it hadn't been all year heading in to the match on Tuesday. Dannie, our assistant coach, pointed it out to me right away as the girls were warming up, "They are here tonight focused and ready, no goofing off tonight". I looked out and saw the very same thing; It was wonderful to see 13 "game faces" on and ready to compete at the highest level. The night was ours to be had and there was no way that the team was going to let anyone take anything from them easily that night. It showed very quickly as we just came out and controlled every aspect of the game to take a very quick 11 point lead about halfway through the 1st set. We controlled the tempo of the game and momentum was all ours. Even when Mt. Marty made nice 6 point run near the end of the set to get them back to about 4 or 5 points away, we never budged with our toughness. We closed out the set with a 4 point run of our own and I believe it ended 25-17. We felt really good about things heading into the 2nd set and I think that our dominance of the 1st set gave us a little bit of a easy comfort level. Mt. Marty came out in the 2nd set and put together some nice runs to get a lead of anywhere between 3-5 points for the first probably half of the set. We then just chipped away with each serve opportunity we got. We go back and get 2-3 points while they would just side out and then lose their serve. Those little 2-3 point runs added up quickly for us and we pulled it back to even. Just before we pulled it back to even, I think we had the kill of the season so far as Andrea Johnson came on 1 foot take off "go" set out of serve receive play and just absolutely crushed the ball (I swear it hit the 10 ft line and made the line move) to short left back and bounced halfway up the bleachers on just the bounce from the contact in the court. The entire crowd gave the whole "OHHHHH!!!!!!" sound all at once. A few points later as a timeout was called Andrea was still in shock, "That is the hardest ball I have ever hit in my life". Of course my response was, "That is just the beginning for you". We battled back and forth from there on out in a tough 2nd set and had face a couple of set points and some moments that most teams would have normally folded and given the set away to come back and take the set 27-25. We didn't crack under the pressure and again our confidence and competive spirit was growing. Going into the 3rd set it was clear that we were going to find any and all ways to finish this match in 3 sets. Even when we came out slow again in the 3rd set, there wasn't the feel of "here we go again, not sure if we can dig ourselves out". It was kind of the opposite feeling in that we were going to figure this opponent out and just create small scoring runs to chip away and get us back to even where we could then show our dominance. Mt. Marty fought with a lot of hear in the last set and had us scrambling around and playing a style of play that is not like ours. At times the play was sloppy and slow with a lot of tips and junk balls sent over the net. Our team did an excellent job of adjusting and using their unconventional style against them as we turned many of their tips into quick offensive transition plays for us. Both teams battled right to the end and by the end of it we didn't commit errors while they did and we came away in the 3rd to close out the match with another 27-25 set victory.
It was great to get the victory and get ourselves comfortable with our new offensive and defensive setups. We passed in serve receive extremely well and our offense was very balanced. It looks good for the future as we progress. I truly believe that we can keep it going and continue to build confidence in each other, our system of play, and our ability to compete and beat the top teams in our conference.
- Coach V