Husky volleyball update

Sweet Home made their two longest league road trips of the year to Sisters and Molalla last week, and after losing both matches, the trip must have seemed longer.

Tuesday, the Huskies fell to the undefeated Sisters team 25-21, 25-17, 25-19. In the first game, both teams started slowly, exchanging points on their own mistakes. Leading 8-7 after a back row hit by Hannah Swanson dropped in, the Huskies defense lapsed into a series of passing woes that let the Outlaws string together 5 points and then stretch out to a 15-10 lead. Sisters let Sweet Home back into the game gradually with three consecutive hits into the net.

After kills by Ashley Horn and Elissa McCartin tied the game, both teams exchanged small runs to keep the outcome in doubt. However, Sisters finished stronger with a couple of kills to take a 1-0 lead.

The second and third games were nearly identical to each other. Lisa Brocard, who was unable to practice the day before due to illness and was held out of the first game, made her presence known early. All four of the Huskies’ first points were centered on her net game with two kills and a successful tip and chip to give Sweet Home the early lead at 4-2. From there, it went downhill quickly as the Huskies gave Sisters nine straight points, six on misplays at the net.

Sisters maintained that lead throughout the game and finished with 4 kills in their last 5 points.

At 8-10 in the third game, the Huskies repeated the same scenario. This time they allowed 6 points, and again the Huskies were unable to recover.

Coach Heide Nichol thought they lacked fire and intensity from the outset.

“They looked like they were wiped out from the beginning, both physically and mentally,” said Nichol. “We need to make sure we don’t let the pressure of the game overcome the pleasure of the game.”

Dealing with that pressure has been difficult for Sweet Home. Swanson reflected on her own personal struggle with confidence in her defensive serve receive and passing game.

“If I miss one, I start getting down on myself and then my confidence goes down,” said Swanson. “When I get a good one, I’m more confident and then I go all out to get more of them.”

Before the Molalla game, the team talked about playing together as a team and walking that fine line of playing with enthusiasm but also with intensity.

“Before the game, we worked on what we thought about each other, like how we react to each other’s play,” Swanson explained. “In the beginning we pumped ourselves up.”

And pumped they were. In the first game, though they started slow, they began to dig out everything Molalla’s two top hitters had to offer. And they learned to come back. After trailing 5-2, their defense frustrated the Indians and, with two tough serves by Horn, took the lead 7-5.

In the middle stretch, though the defense led by Kari McGuyre and Brocard were getting the ball up, they had trouble getting into their offense, letting Molalla pull away to a 18-13 lead.

But just when it looked like a repeat of Tuesday, this time the Huskies recovered, using their offense to ring up 4 kills on their way to taking 9 of the next ten points. They held on to win the first game 25-23.

In the second game, the Huskies temporarily fell victim to the Indians’ tough serves. While Molalla had four aces, the Huskies missed two serves and trailed 12-7. After swapping small runs, Sweet Home still trailed by three, 22-19. But once again, the Huskies became rejuvenated while Molalla’s offense misfired three times. The Huskies took the final three points, ending the game with another 25-23 victory on a Brocard ace.

The Huskies, to that point, seemed to be patient, allowing their defense to keep sending the ball back from the powerful, but inconsistent Molalla attack until they could take advantage.

“If we are in our right spots, we can get to it,” said defensive specialist Alisha Basham. “It’s just getting back fast enough to those spots.”

Sweet Home sputtered at the beginning of what turned out to be the most decisive game by making five unforced errors. But once again, they hung around waiting for Molalla to falter. At 11-15, they strung four points together on Basham’s serve and followed that up with four of the next five points led by a block by Brocard and a block and ace by Horn to give them a 20-17 lead. Unlike the first two games, Sweet Home lost its focus and let Molalla off the hook, losing 25-22.

Nichol began to witness the change in the Huskies’ demeanor.

“I guess we felt that we had it,” said Nichol, who thought their enthusiasm had helped them push through in the first two games. “We had a standing order on the court to stay up. When they faced real pressure and adversity, they gave that (enthusiasm) up.”

The Huskies’ enthusiasm diminished when Molalla unleashed their potent offense and tough serving in a rhythm they hadn’t shown earlier. In game four, the Indians put together consistent runs and a long string of 9 points that included three kills, three tough serves, and two blocks. While Molalla’s offense consistently powered through Husky blockers, their defense successfully placed a double block on Brocard, which the Huskies could not overcome. Sweet Home also missed serves three times in both games. What had look promising disintegrated as the Huskies lost the last two games, 25-10, 15-6.

“We need to work on situations where we push them hard,” said Nichol. “We have to want to win, not just want to play.”

In practice, they once again tried to discover that precarious balance of enthusiasm and intensity as they prepared for Stayton on Monday and Cascade away tonight.