By Latesha Johnson | email@example.com
After not having played a home game since Sept. 21, the Flagler College women’s volleyball team finally returned to the Flagler Gymnasium for some competition in its own territory.
The team was faced with the challenge of playing on the road for seven straight Peach Belt Conference games, in which they tallied a record of 5-2. Since the start of the season, the Saints have played 14 out of 18 games away from their home court.
With the support of his returning athletes, head coach Brian Heffernan strategically scheduled this long string of away games. He combined two short road trips into one long trip with four matches to start the stretch. Beginning Nov. 1, the team will play seven back-to-back home games to finish the regular season.
“The long term goal was to allow our team to be fresher late in the year,” Heffernan said. “With such a young team, we wanted to have to grovel and learn to compete on the road early in the season.”
The team agreed to limit the amount of traveling throughout the season by taking a number of bus trips all at one time.
“I think the biggest obstacle for our team to overcome was staying mentally focused throughout the grueling bus rides,” said sophomore libero Caitlyn Kovach.
The Saints struggled in the first game against Montevallo (losing by a score of 1-3), but were able to recuperate and put themselves in a position to compete in the rest of the games.
“Playing at four different gyms within three days, and having to battle Armstrong Atlantic a mere three days later, took a lot of intentional focus on what our task was and how we were going to accomplish it,” Kovach said.
The team was well prepared to accomplish the goals they had set by implementing a theme for the stretch, where they would play five matches in six days. They referred to this theme as “the gauntlet,” which meant “to be attacked from all sides and go through an intimidating or dangerous crowd, place or experience in order to reach a goal.”
To survive the gauntlet, the players had to prepare themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. They made the extra effort to communicate and serve their teammates in ways that provided energy and positive interactions between them.
“(When) on the road, we work toward the goal of making an away gym feel like home,” Heffernan said. “It is human nature to be quieter in a new or unfamiliar environment, so we try to tell the athletes to be just the opposite of this.”
Kovach was very straightforward about what the team needed to do once they stepped off the bus and onto the court.
“From the start, I make sure to be loud and communicate during our warm up, so that it comes easier when the game begins,” Kovach said.
*Note: The Saints won two out of three since returning home (losing to Francis Marion their first game back, followed by wins against UNC Pembroke and Florida Tech). They now hold an overall record of 14-8, accounting for only one loss at home.
Photo by Dyann Busse