V-ball team experiences ups, downs on lengthy road trip
Fully equipped and focused, the women’s volleyball team entered enemy territory. The team on the other side of the net, backed by a hostile home crowd of 669 deafening fans, was the only thing that stood in the Comets’ way of returning home with their first conference win of the season.
The Comets defeated East Texas Baptist University (17-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-20) on Sept. 15 to open ASC play, ending the Tigers’ 18 home-game winning streak that began in 2011.
With the team currently in the midst of a 14-game road trip, adversity and feats similar to the match at ETBU will set the tone. The trip includes games in four different states.
The Comets opened their games on the road on Sept. 4 against Southwestern University, beginning their play in the Mary Hardin-Baylor tournament in Georgetown, Texas.
Falling to Southwestern (25-27, 25-22, 22-25, 25-16, 12-15), the team marked their first loss of the season.
“We made some critical errors, and I’ll even take some of those,” head coach Marci Sanders said. “I could’ve trusted our team a little bit more at the end of that match, but I also had changed the line-up a little bit (to try) and help them out in making some of their decisions.”
The Comets would go on to beat their next three opponents without dropping a single set.
“We saw our weaknesses because Southwestern pointed some out,” senior setter Kayla Jordan said. “We focused in on those for the remaining matches.”
Sanders said the competition of the opponents during the two-day tournament was comparable to, if not higher than, what they will see in conference.
“It was good competition,” Sanders said. “Some of our conference opponents lost to the teams that we beat. It definitely shows that we’re ready to compete within our conference.”
The team continued their road trip on Sept. 11 by flying more than 1,600 miles to Tacoma, Washington for the Puget Sound tournament.
The Comets won three of their four matches after falling to a Pacific Lutheran squad on Sept. 12 (21-25, 25-23, 26-28, 21-25) to close the tournament.
“I think it’s good to see that caliber of team so we kind of know where we fall and what we have to get to,” junior outside hitter Abbie Barth said. “Having those losses are good in the sense of knowing what we need to do to get better.”
As the team continues to play through their current schedule, there are notable pros and cons in playing away from home for an extended period of time.
“We play multiple games in a row, so it builds up our endurance,” Jordan said.
Sanders said the upside in playing away from home is that it prepares the team for the post-season.
“You’re not going to be hosting a lot of home events if you get to the post-season,” she said. “Fortunately for us this year — if we do win our division — we do get to host our conference tournament. But after that you’re not guaranteed to host a regional tournament or the NCAA tournament. You have to get used to that aspect of having to travel and compete.”
Barth expressed that she feels constant travel makes home games all the more special.
She said that spending entire weekends with the same group of players further develops trust and team chemistry that can later be translated onto the court.
Traveling opens the door for team bonding activities, said Barth.
“We have one pretty fun game called ‘head phone karaoke,’” she said. “You put head phones in (while) a teammate picks a song and you just have to sing it. We love to dance in the locker room before games and we’re really big on pranking each other … so you’re kind of paranoid a little bit.”
Jordan said the staff often tries to fit events into the schedule to make each experience memorable.
“There’re a lot of jokes that we come up with on the road or in the buses,” she said. “We have a lot of stories to tell and we learn more about each other. When we go to cool places, (Sanders) always tries to add something extra (to visit).”
Sanders said the downsides of a heavy road schedule for the players include losing sleep and missing class.
With the Comets gelling on and off the court, Barth explained that the team must focus on two areas of improvement moving forward.
“We need to improve serving and serve receiving,” she said. “Our hitting and our setting will take care of itself … but passing and serving are going to be our biggest things to focus on.”