Youth slows volleyball squad
It was all there in the first match -- everything the De Soto volleyball team has done right and everything it's done wrong early this season.
The Wildcats struggled, dropping matches to Tonganoxie then Paola Tuesday in a Paola triangular -- more of the same after the Cats went 0-4 at a weekend tournament in Lansing.
"We're young," De Soto coach Jenny Barnhart said. "We are still learning, and we have to be better at minimizing our errors."
In the first match, a two-game loss to Tonganoxie, De Soto found both the right answers and more of the wrong ones.
The Cats hung with the Chieftains early, one of the area's better teams through the last three seasons. De Soto dropped behind 5-2, but rallied to even the score at 11 and actually take a lead, 12-11. The Cats again tied the score at 13, and stayed close, 18-16, before Tongie finally pulled away for a 25-17 victory.
When it was close, De Soto was playing defense.
Carlie Burnett and Laura Lambert combined for a block that eventually resulted in a De Soto point early in the match, making it 5-4. Later, Tami Crow dove to save a ball early in a volley. Burnett quickly hammered the extra chance back at the Chieftains for De Soto's only lead of the day.
Lambert hit the ball hard and the entire team seemed to simply outlast Tonganoxie with safe and confident attacks.
"They are improving," Barnhart said. "They're a better team than I took over Aug. 13.
"We need to work on blocking. We need to read the hitter and put up a block and be solid defensively."
When it wasn't close -- Tonganoxie took the second game 25-10 after racking up a 21-4 lead -- it was a lack of communication, consistency and poise. Chieftain attacks fell between wide-eyed Wildcats more reminiscent of clueless outfielders on a baseball bloopers tape than the defenders that at least challenged Tongie for a game.
Serves flew long and attacks went wide. Sets soared awkwardly of course and digs attempts came up short.
"We're giving up way too many points by our errors," Barnhart said. "We're also waiting for the other team to make a mistake."
The problems were little better against Paola, another of the best teams in the region. The Panthers were co-champions of the Frontier League a year ago and qualified for the Class 4A state tournament.
They didn't appear to miss a beat against the Wildcats.
Paola reeled off the first eight points of the game and made it 10-2 as the Cats watched another serve land inbounds unattended to.
An unforced Paola error made the score 10-4 and another great block by Burnett made it 10-5, but De Soto would come no closer, falling 25-12. The Cats lost the second game, 25-15.
Attacks burying in the net and inconsistent serves rendered De Soto's offense helpless in the face of persistent and powerful kills from the Panthers.
"That's our inexperience," Barnhart said. "We set small goals and we reached a goal in every game we played tonight. As we keep improving, we will see wins, but right now, we just have way too much to learn.
"We came off Saturday and had one day to prepare. With a young team, that just isn't enough time."