By BRETT MARSHALL
If Tuesday's pair of season-opening losses at Salina Central were eye-openers for the Garden City Lady Buffaloes volleyball team, then Thursday night's home sweep of three matches perhaps provided a crystal ball into the possibilities of what the 2010 season might hold for coach Bob Schmitz and his team.
Tuesday, Schmitz watched his team travel to Salina to face Salina Central and Newton and came home with a pair of tough losses.
Thursday at The Garden, the Buffs defeated Holcomb, 25-14, 25-19, and then battled Western Athletic Conference foes Great Bend and Liberal, claiming hard-fought victories over both the Panthers and Redskins.
Part of the reason for the turnaround came from the play of junior outside hitter Kristen Heiman, who has quickly established herself as one of the team's top hitters.
"I thought we came out strong, and we just knew what we needed to do to improve," said Heiman, a 5-10 junior. "I thought we moved our feet better and talked better. We have a lot of chemistry on this team, and it's really showing in how well we played together."
Heiman said the biggest difference between Tuesday's matches and Thursday's was the aggressiveness the team displayed.
"Our heart came out tonight because we fought so hard for it," Heiman said. "This is what we needed. This will help a lot. We know we can do this when we play our best."
The matches against the WAC foes were particularly intense.
After losing the opening set against Great Bend, the Buffs rallied for 25-9, 25-15 victories to take the match. And they closed out the night with a stirring triumph over Liberal, winning 33-31, 25-20.
The Buffs fell behind early against Great Bend, after having led late at 24-22. While the Buffs have struggled over the past couple of seasons with consistency, they displayed all of that trait in the final two games against the Panthers.
"It's the most complete we've played since I've been here," Schmitz said, noting that this is early in his second season. "It was just a solid performance against Great Bend, and I think both Kristen (Heiman) and Casey (Curran) had seven kills each."
The rally against Great Bend provided a much-needed confidence boost for the Buffs, and it carried over to the final match against Liberal.
The Buffs faced set points twice late in the first set against Liberal, only to avoid a loss by playing some of their strongest and most aggressive volleyball of the young season.
"I think we were kind of scared when we played at Salina," Heiman said. "But gosh, words don't describe how I feel about tonight. We've just got to keep our intensity up and get control of a match. Tonight, I think our hearts came out, and we fought so hard for the wins."
With senior setter Alexa Aldaco out with an injury, Schmitz had to go to his junior varsity to add in sophomore Johna McClelland and freshman Jacksenie Tornero. And both contributed, especially the 6-3 McClelland, who transferred from Holcomb at mid-semester last year.
"She's been a little shy at times playing forcefully, but I thought she showed a lot of promise," Schmitz said of McClelland.
Schmitz also was happy with the leadership of sophomore Casey Curran, who is one of four returning starters from a year ago.
"Casey's definitely our floor leader and quarterback out there," Schmitz said. "She's taken that role even though she's just a sophomore."
For first-year Holcomb coach Jennifer Barrett, the quadrangular provided her Lady Longhorns with a first in the program's history — beating a Class 5A or 6A school — when they rallied to knock off Great Bend 20-25, 25-23, 25-22.
Barrett, whose team had opened the season with victories over Meade and Lakin on Tuesday, said playing up two and three classifications was a barometer of where she sees her team.
"It's a big positive for us," Barrett said after the come-from-behind victory over Great Bend. "We've switched up the pace of our offense, and the timing on the floor is quicker and the speed of transition has picked up."
Barrett inherited seven returning varsity players, including 5-10 hitter Breanna Gottschalk and 5-9 hitter Heidi Boyles. Both contributed throughout the match as did all the players who Barrett put on the floor.
"All of them on different occasions contributed," Barrett said. "Kyshia Prieto (sophomore setter) was huge for us on the back row."
Both Garden City and Holcomb resume play Tuesday when the Lady Buffs travel to Newton for a quadrangular that includes Arkansas City, and Holcomb is at Ashland.