The Mesa Community College women’s volleyball team is headed down the home stretch of their regular season as they look to secure a playoff spot after defeating Central Arizona College 3-0 on Friday, Oct. 13.
The season has been a rollercoaster of outcomes, as the team has gone though separate streaks of five wins, six losses, three wins, and four losses, respectively.
A point of emphasis for the team throughout the season has been to finish games strong and better understand how to put together complete games.
“I think we are focused on finishing, that’s kind of been our motto a little bit. We’ll start good, we’ll play well, and then we’ll kind of hit a roadblock. We’ve just been focused on getting over that,” said middle blocker Brynlee Barris.
The team also expressed an understanding that the process of how to achieve victory is ultimately just as important as the result itself. Rather than dwelling on the results, the team has focused on replicating the process of winning as much as possible.
“It’s a huge part of the mental game I think. We work on it in practice a lot, about finishing, it’s really just a mental game and if we make an error, we have to be able to move on.
Next play mentality and just not letting the losses get in our head about how we prepare,” said libero and defensive specialist Kylee Pew.
The reputable strength of opposing teams on MCC’s schedule this season also played a factor in their overall record, helping to give context to their streaky season thus far.
Despite being a Division II team, they have played eight Division I teams. These eight games make up a third of their schedule, as they have gone 2-6 in those contests. Three were played at the College of Southern Nevada Coyote Volleyball Classic, where the team unfortunately finished 0-3.
“I think if you look at our schedule in comparison to a lot of the teams in our conference, we had a really tough strength of schedule. We went on the road and played a lot of Division I teams in Las Vegas and we really tried to pit ourselves against some competition, get better in those aspects, and then when we came back, it translated into those wins we had coming back before getting into the meat of our season,” said head coach Jordan Herrington.
The tough schedule has created an environment where complacency was not an option, a thought which was echoed by multiple players on the team.
“I think every aspect of our game has improved, we’re a completely different team than we were at the beginning of the season. Every practice, we just come in wanting to be better, and we have just gotten better in every aspect,” said server and opposite hitter Abby Platt.
Another variable the team has been working through has been the continuity and the chemistry being developed by the players themselves.
“With this team we have five returners, really only four because one of them played two years ago. I think we have a lot of young and a lot of new [players]. Something with working with that is working through those little kinks, working through them playing together,” said Herrington.
The nuances of trusting each other, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and finding the best methods of communicating have all contributed to the overall growth of the team.
Another variable affecting the results of games is injuries, something that all teams have to face at some point.
The practices at the beginning of the season lasted longer, and weight training was more emphasized at times during training. However, maintenance and recovery are on the forefront of preparation for players at this latter stage of the season, according to Herrington.
The battle with injuries has left the team feeling like there is still room for improvement and has created a belief that the best is yet to come.
“We haven’t really hit our peak yet. There’s still more in the tank for our girls, and I think they understand that,” said Herrington. “They know that. They know there’s something still left [in the tank].
After their most recent win against Central Arizona College, in which they defeated the DI team 3-0, the team is set to face two straight divisional opponents, then two more conference opponents to close out the regular season.
The rest of the schedule consists of a home game against Pima Community College on Oct. 18, South Mountain Community College on Oct. 20, Glendale Community College on Oct. 25, and Phoenix College on Oct. 27.
Each game will have major ramifications towards the playoff race, as the team currently sits in the fourth and final DII playoff spot in the conference.
The Thunderbirds are one game ahead of South Mountain in the standings, and are also one game behind Glendale Community College for the third seed in the playoffs.
“Our main focus right now is taking one game at a time. Us as coaches, and as a team, are focusing on one opponent at a time, one game at a time, one day at a time,” said Herrington.
A similar situation played out last season, where the team was faced with a critical game against South Mountain which determined their playoff hopes.
While this team is far different from the one from last year, the coaching staff took the lessons learned from that experience and did their best to apply them to this season’s conclusion.