By BRETT MARSHALL
If there's one item of focus for Garden City High School girls' volleyball team in the early portion of the 2013 season, it would be that new coach Shandra Sanders wants her team to focus on being good teammates.
Don't let the small things get in the way and always, always make sure you're encouraging your teammate. Play hard, play excited, but focus on the team and not on the individual.
"It means don't let mistakes drag you down," Sanders said Thursday following her team's 25-14, 25-20 victory over Liberal at The New Garden. "It means being more excited for your teammates. We're worried about the wrong things and when that happens, the wrong things win."
That's what Sanders expressed to her Lady Buffs earlier after they suffered a tough 25-21, 25-22 loss to Great Bend as the two-time defending Western Athletic Confernece champs split matches for the second time in three days at home. Now 2-2, the Lady Buffs have nine days to prepare for the Sept. 14 Valley Center Invitational.
Her clear instructions apparently worked because after struggling at times in the Great Bend loss at key points of the two-set loss, the Lady Buffs came roaring out of the gate in the Liberal match.
In the first set against the Lady Redskins, Garden City led 10-1 before Liberal could recover. The visitors did narrow the deficit to five at 18-13 but then the Lady Buffs regrouped once again, settled into a rhythm and finished off a 7-1 run to win by 11 points.
"We started off kinda rough tonight which we didn't expect," said senior middle blocker/outside hitter Taylor Linenberger. "That second match we were pumped. In the Great Bend match we just kind of got down a little but we all helped each other against Liberal. We just need to keep learning how to be a team and get better."
Linenberger, a 5-foot-10 performer, said the team's defense improved in the Liberal match.
"Our defense was better and we had some good sets," Linenberger said. "Everything just flowed. We just remained positive and it was exciting."
Sanders said she sees improvement in the team through four matches.
"What they're learning right now is that it's a team sport," Sanders said. "We lose as individuals and we win as a team."
In spite of at least five serves into the net against Liberal, Sanders said the 25-14 first-set win was even more impressive.
"It happened because we weren't worried about 'I didn't do this, I didn't do that.' They were focused on being great teammates. They get the volleyball part. They can perform the skills. They understand the game. It's about a mindshift to what's important and that seems to be what happens when we struggle. They had the missing piece against Liberal. If we played that way against Great Bend, we'd have won that one, too."
In the second set against Liberal, the Lady Buffs opened with a 9-3 lead and then withstood two rallies by Liberal. The first one pulled the Lady Redskins to within 14-11 and the second saw them come from down 21-12 to climb within four, 24-20, before Garden closed it out.
"I want them to see that no matter who's on the floor, our team atmosphere is the most important thing," Sanders said. "They control that, not me. That match showed that type of atmosphere. They have worked so hard on the physical, emotional and mental side of the game to get the skill to be the kind of team they want to be."
In both sets of the Great Bend loss, the Lady Buffs were right in the mix, seeing scores of 15-all in the first and second sets turn into Great Bend surges at the end to close out both battles.