No. 8: Busters volleyball produces turnaround season
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of 10 stories counting down the top 10 sports stories of 2012 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
By ADAM HOLT
To say the Garden City Community College volleyball team was greatly improved in 2012 might be the understatement of the year.
As it is, GCCC's big leap forward this past season is The Telegram's No. 8 sports story of the year.
In 2011, head coach Rob Lutz's first season, the Lady Broncbusters went 1-32. This year, GCCC was 21-20 and made the final four of the region tournament.
Twenty wins probably qualifies as greatly improved, a phrase that still doesn't fully encapsulate how much better the Busters were.
It took 13 matches for the 2011 team to notch its first — and only — win. The 2012 squad matched that total in its first contest. By early September, a win over Cloud County at the Perryman Athletic Complex gave the Busters their first home win and first conference win since 2008.
"At that point, once we started to hit a couple of those milestones, I know for myself, it was easier to start saying, 'You know what? There doesn't need to be a comparison to last year anymore,'" Lutz said. "Now, this season stands on its own, this team stands on its own. Sure, we're going to be compared to seasons past because that's what you do in sports. But the truth is, this team now is its own, and we don't have to worry about last year. I think getting some of those things out of the way early made that easier for us to have a better, successful season."
Lutz said the biggest difference this season was having more talent and athleticism. Combined with the experience of sophomores like returner Paula Gonzales and transfers Natalia Parreira and Brandy Vergado-Duclayan, Garden City had a good blend of talent, leadership and enthusiasm.
And even with all that, there was a matter of chemistry. The team had just two regular returning players, and had to blend two international players in Parreira, a Brazilian, and Josi Stiel of Germany. To Lutz's surprise, the team developed a high level of trust early on, which he said allowed the Busters to progress ahead of his projected schedule.
Lutz said the team realized how good it could be after a 4-1 performance at a tournament hosted by Air Force Prep in mid-September.
Even with that, it wasn't all easy. Middle blocker Chinasa Ekweari tore her left ACL early in the season, and the Busters dealt with injuries — particularly to ankles — all throughout the year. Lutz credited the team with being mentally tough, to overcome the injuries, and adapt to playing out of position because of players sitting out matches.
"I think our team was very, very resilient," Lutz said. "I think our team turned into a very mentally strong team, which is something you don't see very often, particularly at the two-year college level. So many college coaches will tell you, 'Our team's not very mentally tough.' Where I think we had the right blend of leadership. I think Paula Gonzales, I think Shelby Bennett, I think even Josi Stiel and Taylor Winchester from the freshmen class were very mentally resilient."
That resiliency showed toward the end of the season as things got tough before a surprising finish. After setting an initial preseason goal of 15 wins, the team decided to shoot for 20 as the year went on. The Busters sat at 19-13 with five regular-season matches to go, then lost all of them. Lutz said it started weighing on the team.
"I think at that point, we didn't just play volleyball," he said. "We thought about the scoreboard, and we thought about the win-loss record. And once we got to 19, and lost one we probably shouldn't have, I think we started thinking about how to get to win No. 20 as opposed to, 'Let's just go play the best we can play.'"
The Busters backed into the playoffs, and in losing their last few matches, missed out on a chance to host their first-round playoff game. On the road without Parreira, their most consistent attacking option who was out with a left ankle sprain, Garden City beat No. 3 seed Colby, 25-18, 25-23, 25-23.
Despite losing middle Bailey Eve in the win, the Busters beat Dodge City in their first game of the final four in Wichita and had a chance to win the region, before falling to Hutchinson and Barton to end the season.
"At that point, once we made the final four, it was kinda icing on the cake," Lutz said. "However, at the same time, the competitive juices are flowing, and you're going for it. You're gonna try to win it, knowing that, 'Hey, we gotta win four matches, (then) we can go play at nationals.' If you're gonna call getting to the final four the icing on the cake, we wanted to make sure we could write the script on the icing."
Lutz deflected much of the credit for the season, saying he just pointed the team in the right direction and tried to push the right motivational buttons when necessary. He said it was a wonderful compliment to be told by opposing coaches that the Busters were much better than they had expected. Those compliments culminated in three players being named all-KJCCC. Parreira was named to the first team, while Gonzales was a second-team selection after being an honorable mention in 2011, and Vergado-Duclayan earned honorable mention honors.
"It was fun to see them compliment the players on the team, as well, looking through the net, going, 'Hey No. 9 (Parreira), you played a great game, and now we're going to reward you with a great season by putting you on the first team," Lutz said. "And we're gonna put Paula, and elevate her from honorable mention a year ago to second team this year. And then to get a third player put on the all-conference, all-region list, again, it's so great to see the team get the recognition that I think they deserve for having such an outstanding season."