They call them “mini matches.”
The Leesville Road Pride have implemented shortened versions of volleyball games into their practices. The exercise helps them focus on points. Just one point at a time, they say.
Against a scrappy Heritage team on Tuesday, the Pride’s new tactic seemed effective.
With their backs against the wall, they entered Set 3 trailing the Huskies, 2-0.
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After its two-set deficit, Leesville Road coach Erin Hensler called out for her team to “be the first to five.” When the Pride reached the five-point threshold, Hensler charged them to “be there first to 10.”
Coupled with a speedy and aggressive pace over the next three sets, the mini matches did more than help Leesville Road preserve its undefeated record. They allowed the Pride to shake off their errors and glow with confidence, something they will need to face an undefeated Broughton team Thursday.
On Tuesday night, Leesville Road came from behind to beat Heritage 3-2 (21-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-12, 15-11).
“That’s our new team motto. We are living by ‘first to five, first to 10,’ ” Hensler said. “Instead of thinking about the big picture, because 25 is a long way away, we’re focusing on the five in front of us. If we can get to those five in front of us, then we just reach out a little bit further.
“It’s been a wonderful strategy to help our team finish.”
The first two sets were tit-for-tat, as neither team led by more than one point until the Huskies went up 16-13 in Set 1.
The Pride (7-0, 4-0 Cap-8) were playing without their senior setter, plugging sophomore Megan Farrell in for her first varsity game.
To start the third set – Heritage one away from knocking off the blemish-free Pride, Leesville Road opened with a 4-1 advantage, extending it to 15-6 before claiming the set.
“The girls knew that they weren’t playing well,” Hensler said of her Pride through the first two rounds. “They were playing without passion, we weren’t talking to each other. As soon as we could get all of those three components together, we were golden.”
Quick, powerful, effective
When Leesville found a comfortable stride, it rolled.
The Pride climbed quickly to a double-digit lead in Set 4, out-hustling the visitors and sending down unstoppable kills.
Freshman Daniela McDonald led the game with 20.
She and some of her other teammates echoed their coach’s sentiments about the early dispassionate play.
“We knew we had to play as a team,” said McDonald, who also had three digs. “We just had to come together and play for each other.”
In the tiebreaker, two straight blocks gave Leesville an early lead. The Huskies seemed to crumble under the noise as the Pride went up, 4-1.
The hosts were indeed the first to five.
But when the Pride broke double-digits in that final set, Heritage (7-4, 2-2) managed to come within two points.
So Leesville Road kept shooting.
“The aggressive, quick pace kept the other team on their heels,” Hensler said. “They (Heritage) weren’t able to run their offense, because we were running such a quick offense. That’s definitely one of the keys to us winning.”
Heritage recorded 40 kills in the loss, and it hardly ever relaxed the attacks.
Junior Sydney Wilson drew a game-high 17 digs, saying after the game that the mini matches were effective.
“I think that kind of helps us shake off any mistakes,” Wilson said.
The Pride’s early errors may have given Heritage the advantage in the first two sets, but Leesville’s errors didn’t cost them as much as the Huskies’ did down the stretch.
With the game on the line in Set 5, Heritage kept swinging and kept pounding.
But to no avail, the attempts weren’t enough; Leesville overcame the threat.
Besides, it had to be the first to 15.
Jessika Morgan; 919-829-4528, @JessikaMorgan