It's that time of the season. Geez that can mean so many things. For us right now it truly does. It's that time of the season that the body starts to break down for the athletes. Well, we currently have 5 players out with season ending injuries and just had a starting middle go down with an ankle injury over the weekend. We back problems, shoulder issues, and other foot and knee ailments. It's that time of the season.
It is also that time of the season that our conference schedule becomes very unfriendly to us. This past Saturday was the beginning of a stretch of matches where we play all top 5 teams in the conference in a row, then a non-conference match, and then the 6th place team. Why not throw that schedule right on top of the pile, lol. We are ready for it and are going into this stretch with a great deal of focus and preparation. To be the best in this conference you have to go through the top teams eventually (not all at once though). Yet this seems to be the schedule we have every season in mid-October. It's that time of the season.
So here is a quick review for those of you that missed out on our previous week of matches. We came off of a great match win at Midland University on the 2nd of Oct. feeling great. Our next match was at USF on that Tuesday. We came in confident and focused. We had to adjust our lineup due to the season ending injury to Sarah Stahlke, our most consistent serve receive passer on the season. Although we felt that we could manage and still perform at high level. We certainly did for the first set and half. We controlled every aspect of the match during the first set, forcing them to make at least 3 substitutions they were not planning to make. We then came out again with a quick start and about a 7-8 point advantage at like 16-8or9. And then we froze up, our serve receive passing became our worst enemy. We were stuck in one rotation for 12 straight points and that comfortable lead we had became a deficit very quickly. It was heart-wrenching and we all knew that it wasn't going end well. We struggled the rest of the match as we could not find a way to build our confidence against basically 2 of their servers as they ran us off the court with extremely aggressive serving. It was like being hit in the chest and not ever seeing it coming, everything just leaves you and you struggle to find your breathe and bearing as to where you are. We knew we let them off the hook.
We came back into the next couple of practices with that extremely sour taste of "what if". We had to figure out a way to just suck it up and get better with our ball control. There was an understanding that heading into the weekend that our Friday match against, then 0-6 in GPAC play, Concordia was a must win situation for us. We adjusted our lineup again during practices to give us a little bit more consistency with our passers. Then Friday came and with our lower numbers we were forced to play some Varsity players in the JV match. One of our starting MH's, Rachel, came down on a teammate during the last segment of the JV warm up and hurt her ankle. She played during the first set of the JV but couldn't do much with movement so we decided to shut her down for the night. With that decision we had to make a drastic change from what our practices had prepared us for. Without the additional hitter we were forced to go back into a 5-1 setup that we used earlier in the season. It seemed to work out OK. We had our struggles passing but we played consistently enough to win 3 close sets to take the match. Carina set a very solid match after not running a 5-1 in about 2-3 weeks. Our OH's came out to play and sparked our offense. Meghan and Ashley will need to continually perform at a high level within out of system hitting to keep us stable since our passing has been streaky of late. It was a great win for us and something we felt we could build on heading into the next night.
On Saturday, we faced Nebraska Wesleyan. Who was just coming off of very long 5 set match against Dordt. I thought we would have the advantage with energy level, feeling that they may have been tired from the gruelling match the night before and the 2 hour travel in the morning. However, in the first set it looked like we were the ones that traveled 2 hours and just woke up. We needed a spark, some emotion, some fire. We found it in the 2nd set as we battled extremely hard to come back and win the set 27-25. We felt good about our play and felt that we could pull out something special. We battled hard in the 3rd and 4th sets but could pull out the wins. There always seemed to be 1-2 rotations that held us back from controlling the tempo of the match. Our offense power was not with the rest of the match as it seemed all of our attacks were dug up by NWU and they limited our kills. A lack of offense has been a key contributor all year to some of our struggles. We are trying to implant that "killer instinct" into our hitter's attitudes and mental approach to attacking balls. I tell them all the time if we are going to go down let's go down swinging and trying to take off the opponent's blocking arms or digger's heads, haha.
We head into this week with an uncertainty about Rachel's ankle as well as our serve receiving passing confidence and attacking attitude. It is going to very interesting to see how this group of young ladies responds to the great challenges ahead of them with playing the top 6 teams in the conference all in a 2 week period of time. It's gut check time, who has the mental fortitude to not care about who the opponent it and just go out and execute the skills and game plan that is required of them. Who can face the challenge, stare it right in the face and scream as loud as they can, "I WILL CONQUER YOU".
IT IS THAT TIME OF THE SEASON!!!!
- Coach V