The Rolla volleyball team (2-4. 0-2 OC) welcomed Joplin to town for an Ozark Conference matchup on Thursday, Sept. 7. Rolla got out to a slow start in the first set before a strong second set, but they couldn't force a third in a 25-15, 26-24 loss.
Slow starts have plagued the Lady Bulldogs in their last few games and Thursday was no different. Joplin jumped out to a 14-6 lead early in the first set and took the set easily 25-15. Head coach Stephanie Pritchett says she needs to find a way to get her team in the right mindset from the first serve.
"They're going to have to do something in warmups to get their mindset focused on what we're doing. Like the fact that we can win the first game would be great," said Pritchett after the loss. "Then it takes some pressure off going into the second game instead of all the pressure being on them in the second game. Maybe I just need to tell them it's game two when we start the game and if you don't win this, you don't get to play again."
That do or die mindset in the second game did kick in, because the Lady Bulldogs played significantly better after a rough first set. Joplin took an early lead by dumping light touches into the middle of Rolla defense, which was left wide open. After Joplin took a 6-1 lead, Rolla jumped into action. Their hitting was cleaner and they improved dramatically in their blocking game. Pritchett moved some players to different sides of the court and it paid off. The front row did a fantastic job of getting their hands on blocks, several of which turned into Rolla points. That blocking took some pressure off of their back line and they were able to get into a rhythm. A block ended up allowing Rolla to tie the game at 10 and it was neck and neck from there on out.
"Our outside blockers need to set the block in the right place and they were not in the first game at all. I kept telling them to move in, to get right on the blocker and they just weren't," said coach Pritchett. "I switched Courtney (Colench) to the outside, I had Ami (Ikuenobe) block some on the right side, she's a very good blocker. I had Megan (Brown) block some on the right side, she's a good blocker and it suited them both. Loran (Pritchett) ended up getting a block over there and then Rebecca (Janke) and Shelby (Ply) did a good job starting to close the block so we weren't having gaping holes over there. That was good."
Rolla took their first substantial lead when they jumped in front 20-17, which forced a Joplin time out. Loran Prichett followed the time out with an ace to push the lead to 21-17. The Lady Bulldogs buckled a bit after that, allowing Joplin to get within a point, but Rebecca Janke ended the Lady Eagle run with a kill to push the Rolla lead to 22-20. Joplin came back to tie the game at 22 thanks to some strong blocking and a few Rolla miscues. The teams traded points and the game was locked at 24 all as the game wore on. Joplin got the next point to take the lead 25-24 to set up a game point before a hit by Shelby Ply went wide left to give the Lady Eagles a 26-24 win.
Despite the last kill attempt going out of bounds to end the game, Ply had a stellar night. She led the team in kills with five, while adding two digs and 1.5 blocks. Janke added four kills and two blocks, which led the team. Brown matched her in kills with four while adding a dig and an assist. Ikuenbe had 1.5 blocks, four digs and an assist. Pritchett added a block and five assists of her own, while Sophie Parsons led the team in assists with seven. A lot of those points and blocks came in the second set, because the Lady Bulldogs weren't playing as a unit in the first game.
"As a team, we were playing like a bunch of individuals in the first game. In the second game I told them 'one of you can't do it, all six of you have to do it' and they responded," said coach Pritchett. "We have to finish games. We were up against Jeff City the other night by three or four points and gave it to them, we were up there three or four points and gave it to them.
"I think this team has to get over the fact that they think that they're mediocre," continued the Rolla head coach. "They've gotta get to the point thinking that they're a good team and if we play together we can be a great team. If they can do that, we'll be alright."
Coach Pritchett thinks the fact that the Lady Bulldogs keep putting themselves in must win situations in the second set leads to putting too much pressure on themselves. That pressure has made it tough for them to close out games.
"Maybe a little bit. That's the textbook answer, because when a team folds multiple times after having a lead it's almost like they're scared to lose instead of pushing through to win," said Pritchett. "We have to be doing competitive things in practice to make them want to win every single point not just being happy with being three ahead."
The JV and freshman games ended in similar results. The JV lost 25-9, 25-17 and the freshmen lost 25-12, 25-12.
Rolla had the night off on Friday before playing in the Show-Me Showdown at West Plains on Saturday, Sept. 9.