By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — Putting a volleyball rotation together without all the key players is something akin to working on a jigsaw puzzle and looking for missing pieces.
Such was the life for Holcomb Lady Longhorns' coach Jennifer Barrett during the first month of the season.
Two key players, both seniors — 5-10 Haley Heydman and 5-9 Kylee Amos — missed a combined two and a half weeks. And both were hobbled by nagging injuries, neither at the same time.
On Thursday, Barrett finally got all of her regulars back into the lineup, and the Lady Longhorns responded with a three-game sweep of Class 6A Dodge City and Great West Activities Conference opponents Ulysses and Goodland.
On Saturday, at their home Invitational, the Lady 'Horns continued to ride their hot streak and healthy lineup, winning all five matches to claim the title at the HHS gymnasium.
Now sporting a healthy and impressive 16-4 record, Barrett hopes to build on the recent success heading into the final month of the regular season.
And Amos says having everybody back in the rotation will make the Longhorns even tougher.
"It's exciting and a lot of fun to have everyone playing and playing well," Amos said. "Everybody comes together as one. It's been a lot better since Thursday."
Amos, just like her coach, knows the team can improve more.
"Covering the court is an area where we can get better," Amos said. "Defense has been our strength. It's taken a while, but we're getting better. It was very exciting to play at home today and come through like we did."
The toughest test of the day came in the final match, against highly-regarded Oakley, the No. 2 seed coming in. The Lady Longhorns got off to early leads in both sets, finally holding off late rallies by the Lady Plainsmen twice to win 25-22 and 25-21.
"It was nerveracking when they rallied, but then we'd go on one of our runs," Amos said.
For Barrett, putting the pieces of the puzzle together will be an ongoing process, and even in Saturday's five matches, she utilized different combinations.
"Today, the lineup was even different than Thursday," Barrett said. "I liked the way they came out and competed. They kept their focus most of the day."
One area that Barrett would like to see improvement is serving.
"We didn't do as well as I'd like," Barrett said. "The best part of this group is they just like to compete. They hate to lose. The biggest thing for us, as it is with any team, is communication from the back line to the front. So there's a number of little things to improve. But overall, I'm happy with where things are."
In Saturday's tournament, the Lady Longhorns dominated by winning in straight sets in all five matches. Their wins came against Sublette (25-10, 25-14), Deerfield (25-5, 25-1), Southwestern Heights (25-11, 25-13), Elkhart (25-11, 25-12) and the finale over Oakley.
"The good part about today, too, is that we had five matches, and it gives me a chance to see how we perform over a period of hours and several matches," Barrett said. "It's a lot like the postseason. The last match was our toughest and I thought we had enough steam to play well."
Heights finished third at 3-2, Elkhart was fourth at 2-3, Sublette fifth with a 1-4 mark and Deerfield was winless in its five matches.
Barrett's squad will return to action on Thursday when it travels to Hugoton for a triangular that also includes Ulysses.