How do you respond? That was the question Hillsboro High School head volleyball coach posed to her team Thursday night and Friday in practice.
“How are you going to respond when you don’t play well?” Arnold asked. “How are you going to respond when you don’t get the calls?”
The Trojans suffered their first loss of the season to Council Grove, 23-25, 25-22, and 23-25, Thursday in Herington. Arnold was not sure if her team overlooked the Braves; Hillsboro pounded Herington, 25-14 and 25-14, in the first match. She does know that the Trojans were cold, in both execution and intensity, to start the match against Council Grove.
Unquestionably, Council Grove played well. The Braves, led by a sterling performance from their libero, dug most of the hits sent in their vicinity. They employed a scrappy defensive form of volleyball and never let Hillsboro pull away with leads in both the first and third games of the match. The Trojans were frustrated that their spikes were not falling to the hardwood. Frustration transformed to panic.
Frustration and panic did not aid the team’s focus. Arnold said unforced errors, especially in serving, were prevalent throughout the match. She added that the Trojans hit more balls out of bounds against Council Grove than in any match since the beginning of the year.
“We have to learn to serve in tough situations,” Arnold said.
Arnold learned something about the Trojans on Thursday. They do not quit. Hillsboro was down throughout the match but no situation seemed as dire as a 12-7 Council Grove advantage in game three. Addie Lackey submitted an eight-serve streak to put the Trojans up 14-12. Arnold also said she was pleased with the Trojans’ pursuit of balls heading out-of-bounds.
The learning experience is more important than a loss suffered in September. Arnold expected her team to suffer a letdown early in the season. She just had a sense that her team was not ready to take every opponent’s best shot in every match.
“There’s no team that’s going to let us go out and let us have it,” Arnold said.
The match reminds her of a loss to Circle in the Hillsboro Invitational Tournament last season. The Trojans were plagued by errors in the three-game match against a less-talented Circle team.
Arnold challenged her team to improve after the frustrating loss and Hillsboro never looked back that season on the way to a state championship.
“At that point we really started playing well,” Arnold said.
The coach will look to team leaders Tena Loewen, Danae Bina, and Addie Lackey to provide the team with the right attitude for the rest of the season. She said they handle disappointment exactly the way she wants.
“They are really good about letting things bounce off and going on,” Arnold said. “They know the match is over and there’s nothing they can do about it. I need that to rub off on others.”
While Arnold does not want the Trojans to anguish over an opportunity lost, she wants the players to use it as motivation for improvement in practice.
“Are you fully engrossed in that practice like a champion?” Arnold asked her team. “If you are going through the motions you’re not getting any better.”
This season Arnold has began a practice of giving the team a motivational word each week. Before the Trojans even played Thursday, the emphasis was on confidence — more specifically the confidence to keep trying after failure. She gave the Trojans examples of Thomas Edison taking 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb and Michael Jordan missing 26 game-winning shots in his career.
“If it happens to him it happens to everybody,” Arnold said. “It’s about letting go of mistakes and coming right back.”
The way Arnold wants the Trojans to respond, to bounce back, is through the motivational phrase the first week — work ethic. She gave her team a list of what work ethic looks like including relentless pursuit, being able to take criticism, and having respect on and off the court for others.
She also wants the Trojans to grow closer as a team and develop chemistry. Part of that is knowing your teammates. Arnold has started a program of confidence partners where players tell each other what they want to hear when they are frustrated. Arnold said all the players have really bought into the idea and have requested to have new confidence partners for every match.
Still having championship players from last year’s team — Tena Loewen, Lackey, Bina, Maci Schlehuber, and Erin Loewen — Arnold has a feeling this year’s group is going to respond well.
“Maybe this will be the game that lights the fire,” she said. “If that’s what it takes, I’m OK with that.”