SYCAMORE – Sycamore volleyball captains Ratasha Garbes, Hannah Knox and Christina Dailey gathered their teammates two weeks ago after the Spartans lost to Marion Central Catholic in straight sets.
The Spartans lacked focus and didn’t communicate throughout the match, problems that pervaded their young team last season. This year, those mistakes wouldn’t be acceptable for a team loaded with seniors, so Garbes, Knox and Dailey told their team that they were having an optional practice that night when they arrived in Sycamore.
“This isn’t where we wanted to be,” Dailey remembered telling her teammates. “We’ve worked so hard to be in this spot, and we need to keep working, we need to improve.”
That veteran leadership was sorely missed in 2011.
Last year, the Spartans were devoid of leaders. Coach Debbie Klock doesn’t usually need to talk to her Sycamore teams about leadership because those qualities normally are passed down from the older players.
But without any seniors last season, those intangibles weren’t passed down, so Klock had to instill them throughout the season.
“We had that gap, and kids focusing on themselves instead of the big picture,” Klock said. “Now, they see the big picture.”
Now, the Spartans have plenty of veterans coming back.
That experience also has allowed Klock to teach her team more complex offensive sets. Whereas last season she focused her practices on defensive fundamentals, this season has been geared toward learning a more complicated offensive system.
“We matured,” Klock said. “Last year, we were a defense-oriented, basic team, where this year we’re running offenses, and now they understand strategies of the game. We’re playing more complex volleyball.”
The Spartans finished 16-21 last season and made a run to a regional final after a rocky start to the season
This year, Sycamore expects much more.
Several players are coming off successful club seasons, including Dailey, who won an AAU national title with Sports Performance Volleyball Club’s 16U White team. The Spartans have begun the season with a 5-3 record, and Klock thinks her team has a shot at the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title after finishing 3-7 in conference play last year.
“[Last season] definitely helped us build a lot,” Garbes said. “We may not have done as well, but we learned and got to know each other better. We’re a lot stronger going into this year not having lost anyone. … We know what everyone’s tendencies are.”
Even after a solid start, the Spartans still think they can do better. That, Klock said, already is an improvement from last season’s team.
“When they knew they had a bad loss, they knew that was unacceptable this year,” Klock said. “That’s the mindset that we’re working on with the older kids that’s been lost. I think it’s there now.”