Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ups and Downs

I have never seen a team go through an entire season without any bumps in the road. Sometimes, there are injuries. Sometimes, there are interpersonal conflicts. Sometimes, there are outside distractions. Sometimes, there is fatigue. Sometimes, there is lack of heart or lack of discipline.

This past week was a great learning experience for Berry Volleyball. This group of young women have already overcome their share of injuries. They came together as a new team with four of ten members being new to Berry with very little if any interpersonal conflict. However, this past week we saw the effect of fatigue and outside distractions, and at times a lack of discipline. In our match against our cross town rival, Shorter, we went an entire match without finding our rhythm. While we all left the gym frustrated and disappointed in our efforts, I was again impressed with this group's ability to regroup and respond. Back on the court the next night, they came out firing on all cylinders against a solid Southern Wesleyan team and continued our trend of playing very well at home. To me, that says so much about this group and these individuals. They learn from their mistakes and are willing to work hard to ensure that they do not repeat them. I do not question this team's heart. I have no doubt that they will meet the goals that they set for themselves this year. My challenge is to do my part in helping them.

Speaking of working hard, one of our players made an incredible impression on me on Thursday night after our home match. After saying goodbye to a recruit and retreating to the office to finish our day, it was brought to mine and Sean's attention that one of our players was still in the gym (a good hour after we had cleared the gym and everyone had left). When I looked out my office window to see if anything was wrong, what I found made me grin from ear to ear. One of our freshman had changed into workout clothes, set out targets, and was diligently working on footwork drills. We promptly dropped what we were doing and went down to help her. For the next 45 minutes or so, the three of us worked on footwork and transition with no net and no balls. I was barefoot as my dress shoes were not real conducive to demonstrating transition, and she was intent on getting better. She inspired her coaches that night, and I know she will do great things throughout her career at Berry and beyond. I am blessed to work with these types of players every day. I have seen many of them do something similar during their time at Berry. All ten players on our team push me to be a better coach, mentor, and person on a daily basis. I only hope I do the same in return.

After watching Mia Hamm alone on the practice field when she did not know anyone was watching, Anson Dorrance (UNC Women's Soccer coach) said, "The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, and at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching." Berry Volleyball is building something great, because these young women consistently meet this description of a champion.

Go Vikings!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New York, New York

Taking a stroll on Kean's campus

Another week and another tournament victory! This time it was on the road after two flights and little sleep! I could not have been prouder of our team's composure and aggressive style of play this past weekend. They overcame travel, sleep deprivation, and weary bodies to beat four opponents and claim the tournament title. Erin earned All Tournament honors (this time as MVP) for the third straight week as well.

One of several trips around town in the van!

Once the tournament was complete, it was time to do some sightseeing. After heading back to the hotel to shower and change, we headed into New York City! After taking a NJ transit train from Newark and a subway ride from Penn Station, we arrived in Times Square. We ate at John's Pizzeria directly across from the Majestic Theater and had incredible authentic New York style pizza. After dinner, we hit Coldstone and then watched an impressive production of Mary Poppins (several players had never seen the movie, and many of us had never been to a Broadway show!). The New Amsterdam Theater was beautiful in itself, and the production was excellent!

In New York!

Waiting for Mary Poppins to start.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was close to midnight and we were one tired group. However, in an attempt to make the most of our time in New York, we would be off again at 7:30 the next morning in order to take a boat tour of Manhattan. Another train ride, subway ride, and a bit of a hike later and we were boarding the Circle Line boat to tour the city highlights. We saw all of the major landmarks including an up close view of the Statue of Liberty and some incredible views of the New York skyline. As if that was enough, we also saw Stacy London (from What Not to Wear) standing on a doorstep on our way back to the subway! Then it was time to head for the airport and begin our long trip home! We finally made it back onto Berry soil around 2:30am on Monday. It was a long and tiring trip, but it will definitely be one that none of us will soon forget.

About to embark on the boat tour!

View of the skyline with the Statue of Liberty visible below the bridge.

Bethany and Megan check out their pictures of the Statue of Liberty

Next up...Berry-Shorter rivalry continues tonight at Shorter! Go Vikings!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 2 (6-0)

After an exhausting first week that pushed us to our physical limits, we faced a week that seemed even more daunting. In a team meeting at the beginning of the week, the coaching staff challenged the team to have a "can do" attitude about the challenges that were ahead. In addition, we looked for ways to allow their bodies to bounce back from the previous week's demands. So, we started the week with a low impact practice that included learning from watching video of our first weekend and a recovery swim workout. That seemed to do the trick as we travelled to Brenau on Tuesday and rode away with a win. Another day off on Wednesday and a short practice on Thursday helped with the recovery process as we prepared for a marathon of a weekend!

On Friday afternoon, we played LaGrange College at 3:00 followed by Methodist University (who came into the tournament with an undefeated record) at 7:00. With solid contributions from the entire team, we won both matches without dropping a set. The crowd for the 7:00 match was one of the most involved crowds we have had at the Cage as they chanted and cheered our team on to victory.

However, there was little rest for the weary, as we would face Oglethorpe at 11:00 on Saturday morning. A three set win over Oglethorpe was rewarded by a small break before our 1:00 match against Covenant College. Once again, our young team showed their poise and composure as they handed Covenant a loss in three straight sets. While four matches in two days is typically the limit, we were not done this time. We still had to face the toughest opponent of the weekend in Mississippi College. At 5:00, the two teams who had won all of their tournament matches up to that point faced off for what turned out to be the Berry Invitational championship match.

With another solid crowd gathered (including a couple of loyal fans who made signs and created some original cheers that made us all laugh on multiple occasions), our Vikings stepped up to the challenge one more time to defeat a very good Mississippi College in three sets.

As a coach, there are few things that make you happier than to have the pleasure of watching your team leave it all on the floor and be rewarded for their efforts. This group of young women did that this weekend. Their willingness to be coachable combined with their passion for the game and for excellence certainly make our jobs a lot of fun!

This coming week brings a road trip that I know we will all remember for a lifetime. We get to play four worthy opponents at the Kean Invitational, AND we get to do some sightseeing in the Big Apple. Stay tuned for what I know will be some great stories and pictures!

Go Vikings!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week 1 of the season

Wow! What a whirlwind start to the season! We opened at home against Emory on September 1. As expected, Emory was an extremely worthy opponent, and our fans were treated to some great volleyball! Although we came up just short in each of the three sets, it was obvious that this young team was up to the challenge of playing the number three ranked team in the country, and that was after what I hope will end up being the saddest part of our season. During hitting warm ups only minutes before game time, one of our players, Jenn Tinnell, suffered what turned out to be a season ending injury. So, the fact that the team overcame their emotion over seeing their teammate in pain and several people being put in positions that we had not practiced says a lot about the resilience of this group. It is still not easy on any of us to have Jenn on the sidelines, but she has been working diligently at rehab and is by far our biggest fan right now! Here are a few pictures from the match.

This team has a lot of fun together!

Sarah with one of her 7 kills

Kristin, Erin, and Claire preparing to receive serve

While the Emory match could have been a full week in itself, that was only the beginning. We hit the road the next night to play at Covenant College. After a winding drive up to Lookout Mountain (if you want entertaining stories, ask Claressa's grandparents about their drive in their motorhome or Stephanie's mom about the curvy trip to Wendy's), we brought home the victory in four sets. Back to the gym for one day of practice, and we were on the road again!

On Saturday and Sunday, we played four more matches (Piedmont, Birmingham Southern, Rhodes, and Sewanee)! Six matches in one week is definitely not the norm, and our bodies felt it by the end. We ended up beating Piedmont and Sewanee and losing to Birmingham Southern and Rhodes. Rest for the weary was warranted, but we only had a day before we would hit the road again to face Brenau.

The match against Brenau turned out to be a thrilling five set victory with great passing and great offensive production from all of our hitters. It made for a late night getting home, but we were all happy to bring home the "W"!

In addition to all of the great volleyball, we were fortunate to see a number of family members at our matches this weekend including at least three players getting surprised by their parents' efforts to make it to matches. We are so fortunate to have such great support by so many!

Now, we get to play at "home sweet home" again this weekend with five matches in our beautiful Cage Center! We would love to see you all there!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Alumni Game!

The Alumni Team

The alumni game lived up to all of the hype, and both sides had a great time! With twelve total alumni in attendance, they were able to put together a solid team that gave the current Vikings a great preseason test. The 2010 Vikings came out on top 5-0 (25-14, 25-11, 25-21, 25-18, 15-10).

Alumni Huddle

In attendance were Amanda Stiefel Wells (All Time Kills Leader, All Time Aces Leader, 2nd for Career Digs), Shawn Carroll Darling (All Time Digs Leader, 3rd for Career Aces), Meghan Francis (All Time Block Leader, 2nd for Career Attack Percentage, 3rd for Career Kills), Ashley Weider (2nd for Career Assists), Jamie Boze (2nd for Career Kills, 2nd for Career Blocks),
Grace Brannon (4th for Career Kills), Molly Cline (3rd for Career Digs), Rachel Moreau (3rd for Career Assists, 3rd for Career Blocks) . The rest of the alumni team was made up of former All Conference performers (Taylor Minor), team captains (Leah Thomson, Betsy Bowers), and Top Ten Career Record holders (Nikki Weaver, Leah Thomson, Taylor Minor). Needless to say, the current Vikings are fortunate to have a great legacy to follow!

Sue Francis (Meghan's mom) spoiling Shawn Darling's little one!

Up next...six matches in five days! Go Vikings!