By BRETT MARSHALL
There were enough distractions Thursday night for the Garden City Lady Buffs volleyball team that they could have been forgiven for losing focus.
First, it was their final home matches of the 2013 season.
That, in turn, meant it was Senior Night — with six seniors making their farewell appearance at The New Garden.
Add in Dig Pink Night, where breast cancer survivors, and others who didn't win that battle, were honored in ceremonies during the busy evening that included matches against Ulysses, Scott City and arch-rival Dodge City.
After the Lady Buffs had won a hard-fought opening match against Ulysses (25-23), and then easily swept past Scott City (25-15, 25-17), it was time to turn their attention to Dodge City.
But the final match of the night only came after the six seniors — Alyssa Bordewick, Jill Fischer, Taylor Linenberger, Jamie St. Clair, Taryn Tempel and Jacksenie Tornero — were introduced before they took the floor against the Lady Red Demons.
Perhaps it was all that emotion of the night that caused the Lady Buffs to struggle at the outset of their match against Dodge.
And that emotion, perhaps stress or pressure, caused the Lady Buffs to do uncharacteristic things in a first-set loss by a 25-22 margin.
So first-year coach Shandra Sanders did what she's been able to do all season — get her team calmed down, talk through what needed to happen, and get re-focused.
"In the huddle between the first and second sets, I just simply said to them 'what is it we try to accomplish every day in practice? Why do we put you through stressful situations?'" Sanders said. "The answer is that we do those things so we don't do all the bad things in a match."
And maybe it was the fact that for perhaps the first time all season, Sanders had all six of her seniors on the court at the same time.
But re-focus the Lady Buffs did. From there, they regained momentum and it carried them to wins of 25-18 and 25-13 to claim the pressure-packed finale of the night.
"I think we played really well, but we were a little lax at the first (part of the match)," said junior middle hitter Jaymie Bernbeck, who came up big in the final match with 14 kills that took the heart out of a battling Lady Demon squad. "I thought once we got going, we got a little more energy in the second set. I was just calling for the ball and they just kept finding me and getting me the ball. I just wanted to come out and play well in the big moment."
It worked so well, especially in the third and deciding set, that Bernbeck accounted for six kills alone in the final 10 points.
"We want to set our middles to run them effectively," Sanders said of the strategy. "She's (Bernbeck) been pretty intense. The thing I'm most happy about is that the seniors were able to win out here at home."
Sanders said the team has been able to bounce back after struggling early throughout the season.
"Finding a positive and making changes have been how we look at things," Sanders said. "They were focused and paying attention to the little things."
St. Clair, who made nine big digs against Dodge, said the team played better once it relaxed.
"We started getting kills, we got excited and once we get going like that, it's hard to stop all of us," St. Clair said.
With the sweep of the three matches, the Lady Buffs improved their season record to 19-11. They are idle until Oct. 19 when they travel to Dodge City for the Western Athletic Conference tournament, an event they have won the past two seasons.
Ulysses Lady Tigers
Like many coaches, Ulysses' Courtney Eslick has been looking for his team to develop some consistency as the team hits the final stretch of the regular season.
What he saw Tuesday night in the three matches at Garden City High School didn't give him a lot of comfort.
The Lady Tigers, battled gamely against Class 6A Garden City and Dodge City, but fell short in both matches.
First, they lost to Garden City 25-23 and 25-18 and then struggled to drop Scott City 25-21 and 25-18 before coming up short against Dodge City in identical 25-21 losses.
"I'm disappointed in the way we've been playing," Eslick said. "We've got a little more talent than we're seeing on the floor. Our passes are not quite where they need to be, and our setters are just running around. When you play good teams like Garden and Dodge, you can't afford to make too many mistakes. And that's what we did tonight."
The Lady Tigers saw their record drop to 20-10.
In the other match of the night, Dodge City took straight sets from Scott City, 25-19 and 25-12.