Preview: Goal is mental toughness for Knightdale volleyball

08/15/2014 5:03 PM

08/15/2014 5:04 PM

Members of the Knights volleyball squad can practice those bumps, sets and spikes all they want but it will only get them so far.

Second-year head coach Anna Gay wants a “mentally tougher” team to take the court this fall.

“This year, I think we’re a little bit more mentally tough,” Gay said. “I think if we can keep that mental toughness – and really play as a team – I think that’s going to make us stand out a little bit more.”

Gay cited several close matches from last year that could have gone either way. After beating East Wake, 3-2, on Sept. 17, Knightdale fell 3-0 to the same team of Warriors less than a month later in the regular-season finale. Then, in the conference tournament two days later, East Wake defeated the Knights again.

“Mental games,” as Gay called them, plagued Knightdale (8-12 overall, 7-6 Greater Neuse River 4A last year) throughout the season. The Knights finished in the middle of the conference pack, sandwiched between East Wake and Southeast Raleigh and far from the leaders, Garner and Clayton.

The process of creating a mentally tough team does not begin when practice starts. Gay says it extends to the classroom and all other aspects of life, and it’s something she never wants her players to turn off.

“It’s something I try to model for them, not just on the court but off the court also,” Gay said. “We’re working on not letting things get you down, and that way it kind of carries over into the mind frame. Always being ready to play, always being on point – even when there’s other things going on.”

Knightdale will rely on its leadership to instill a team-wide mental fortitude in 2014. Although three members of last year’s squad were lost to graduation, the Knights will return both of their 2013 captains: seniors Sarah Woodard and Delaney Vandergrift.

“I’m expecting the same leadership from them this year,” Gay said of the roles Woodard and Vandergrift will play this season. “They’ve already risen to leadership just in the first week (of practice).”

The third and final senior on Knightdale’s roster, Kia Holden, will also be a captain this year.

“I only have three seniors this year, but they’re really, really strong as a core,” Gay said. “They’re going to take the team to a new level just with their leadership.”

Woodard, Vandergrift and Holden will lead a somewhat new-looking team. Quasi-familiar faces like that of sophomore Jena Massing – a 2013 junior varsity player who often filled in on varsity when injury struck – are expected to contribute on a much larger scale this fall. The experienced leaders will be tasked with facilitating the growth of the newcomers.

Growth is important for the Knights, but so is the growth of the coach. No longer a greenhorn, Gay believes she now holds a firmer grasp on what makes her players tick.

She promises to implement motivational tactics on an individual level.

“The girls know me and know what I expect,” Gay said. “There’s a certain comfort that comes from that. We’re not having to learn each other and try to play at the same time. There’s a rapport that we have now that will make things flow a little bit better.”

Knightdale volleyball opens up the 2014 season on the road at Millbrook on Monday, Aug. 18.

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