Well let's see where we left off last time. We had just switched our lineup around with a four day practice window and a weekend off in between and went out to beat Mt. Marty in 3 sets, albeit that the 2nd and 3rd sets were close and we had to come from behind to win both of those to win the match. I guess you can say that is our forte.
We had 3 days to prepare for Morningside, a team always at the top of our conference but with them having a lot of new players on their roster and with some of the matches they had lost I felt that this could be a time to get while they were a little down. During the week of practice we tried to emphasize starting quick and controlling the serve receive portion of our game to give us chances to compete throughout the match. The first 2 days went fairly well for practice for all of the players. However, on the Friday practice only half of the team really showed up to compete in practice. I feared the worst after the practice heading into Saturday's match against Morningside. My fears held up true as nothing seemed to go right for most of the match. We missed serves, we didn't pass well in serve receive, our defensive discipline was non-existent and we had a lot of hitting errors. It was one of those matches that you swear all of the players were abducted by aliens and it was just their bodies there and not their minds, hahaha. So our JV lost quickly in 2 and our Varsity lost in 3. It was one of those days that you just hope as a coach that the players realize that your past successes only mean something up until the start of the next match. You have to give everything for every match and when you give teams that are struggling a little bit of momentum it is tough to take it away from them. It was time to refocus on discipline and constant focus.
So we had an opportunity to get ourselves back on track by hosting Dakota State on the following Tuesday. We were very confident coming in and gaining confidence with our new lineup. We did know that Dakota State was going to come in with a great amount of energy and really looking to steal a win from us. Both teams came out with a lot of energy in the match and it seemed that all the way up to the 17 point area of each of the 1st two sets that both teams were even in play but then DSU would make a small 3-4 run and separate themselves from us and go up 2-0 in the match. We went in to the intermission between the 2nd and 3rd set knowing that something was missing, not necessarily with skill and strategy but with heart and purpose in every movement we do on the court. We talked about discipline and passion during the intermission and came out of the locker room a completely different team. We came out and seemed like we could do nothing wrong offensively or defensively. Our team defensive positioning and discipline was outstanding. We put DSU away in the 3rd and 4th sets with them only scoring 14 and 13 points (complete dominating performances). So we again force another match to a 5th set and again when we started down 2-0. The 5th set started with both teams going back and forth a with points. After a few points back and forth our defense and offensive transition took over and we seemed to continually go 2 or 3 points to their one to finish of the match. It was another 5 set victory for us and we always take them. We are certainly becoming that team that no one wants to let hang around in matches because we will find ways to get the win.
The very next night we had a conference match against Briar Cliff. A team that I feel roster wise and system wise we matched up very well against. It was an opportunity for both teams to gain a spot in the standings as both of us were sitting at 1-3. We played well for most of the match but at the 15-17 point area of each of the 3 sets we played we just seemed to run out of gas a little bit. Could it have been that the 5 set comeback from behind win the night before took a lot out of us? It is possible. Again it always came down to defensive discipline as we were constantly finding ourselves out of position at key moments in each set. We also did not have an outstanding offensive showing which kept us from putting more pressure on their defense. We dropped the match in 3 but could have a small feeling of leaving the match that with how inefficient we were offensively we still gave ourselves chances to stay in each set and potentially get the job done.
We looked at the next two days of practice as great opportunities to get more in tuned with our defensive intensity and discipline. The two practices went very well leading into our match against Midland University. We left to travel to Midland on Friday night after practice to make sure that we got great rest for the afternoon match time. There was a great amount of focus in both matches. The JV unfortunately lost in 2 but it there were some really good moments in the match. The varsity came out with an unbelievable amount purpose, discipline, and focus. We came out and took the first two sets with great confidence. We went in to the next set knowing that the match was not over and that we needed to continue to raise our level of energy and play. Midland for sure increased their energy and started to really complete their game plan against us. They served aggressive and kept us from being in system to get quality swings. They had us playing very inefficiently in all aspects of our game and took the next 2 sets of the match easily to even it up at 2-2. It was kind of a role reversal for us. We were normally the team that starts down 2-0 to come back to even the match. It has never been the other way around. It was going to be interesting to see how we would respond from being so close to closing out the match early. The 5th set started with both teams trading points for nearly the entire set. Midland found a couple of times that they would pull out in front by two points, their first time was at the switch at 8-6. We were forced to make some lineup changes due to and injury and it was nerve racking because we had to bring in players that were being put into positions they don't normally play. We battled the rest of the way, eventually finding ourselves down 13-10 after being aced for the 16th time. We sided-out and found some phenomenal discipline in our defensive structure for 3 plays in a row to get us a 14-13 lead and a match point. I felt this was our moment and that we needed to finish it on the next point. Midland came up with a great play to sideout to even the score and get one of their servers that had given us trouble all match going back to serve. After that you don't normally feel comfortable about the next serve to receive. However, we found a way to pass a perfect ball and sideout on a first ball swing to tie up the set at 15-15. We took advantage of the opportunity to and won the next point which was a long rally that both teams fought very hard to win. We fortunately had the best offensive opportunity of the rally and won the point. We went back to serve and Midland's serve receive let them down on the serve as they had to chase a ball down to their bench and give us a free ball. They knew exactly what we were going to run and had 2 blockers in great position to defend the attack but our aggressive swing to the edge of their block sent the ball out of bounds to win the match for us and let the celebration begin.
We have had a roller coaster of performances during the season to this point and this Midland match was a perfect example of it. However, most of the stuff before ended with losses for us. I believe now we have a true understanding that we can still win matches when things aren't going well in a match for us. We have the talent and size to compete in every match we play. Yet this is the point in time and I think this is the match that will catapult us into a wonderful run in building confidence and putting us in a great situation to compete at the highest level of our abilities night in and night out.
We believe we are a team on the rise and team that no one wants to face because we will never quit playing hard and we will always find ways to make it difficult to beat us. We have half of the season to build on this huge win for us. The time is now to see where we can truly go.