Maybe the DeKalb volleyball team just needed the extra incentive of the playoffs, or maybe it finally is heeding its coach’s words.
Whatever the reason, first-year coach Ben Fisher finally saw the effort and focus he wanted to see all season from his players, who now are preparing to play Boylan tonight in a Class 4A Jacobs Sectional semifinal.
“We have tended to be the type of team throughout the season that has played point for point,” Fisher said. “We’ve just focused on simple execution and those kind of things. I think that focusing on the matches and making them more than just a normal volleyball match kind of helps us.”
The Barbs struggled through the latter part of the Northern Illinois Big 12 season, finishing 6-4 after winning consecutive conference titles. But after beating Morris to close out the regular season, the Barbs swept Rockford East and Huntley to win their third consecutive regional title.
“During practices, sometimes we would maybe let balls fall or not go for it all the time just because, ‘Oh, it’s practice, it doesn’t really matter, it’s OK,’ ” junior Madison Lord said. “But after [Fisher] gave us a speech and said, ‘If we do this in practice, that’s probably what’s going to happen in games,’ we’ve really focused on making practices more game-like and the effort in practices has really shown up in games.”
Against Boylan, another step up in effort and focus will be crucial. With a taller front line than DeKalb has seen all season, the Titans lost only two matches this year on their way to the Class 4A Auburn Regional title.
“Not only is their effort needed, but our decision-making needs to be good,” Fisher said. “Our hitters need to go up with some type of intention. What are we going to do, how are we going to get around this block, how are we going to get through it? How are we going to get up and over? I just think there needs to be more focus offensively when you go up against a team like that.”
Courtney Bemis, the Barbs’ 6-foot-2 outside hitter, knows her job will be especially important.
“I have to play smart and really think about where I’m putting the ball and what I’m doing with it,” Bemis said. “They’re a solid opponent.”
There’s no doubt that it’s been a frustrating year for DeKalb.
But with a win tonight, all of that could be wiped away and the Barbs would make it farther than they did in their back-to-back NI Big 12 championship years.
“I think that all along throughout the season, our focus and our attention has been on the postseason anyway,” Fisher said. “Not to downplay the conference season or tournaments throughout the regular season in any way, but I think the girls kind of automatically focused in with what our goals were from the beginning of the season anyway.”