Tompkins displayed moments of brilliant play during its Sept. 10 3-2 win against Clear Falls, but to the frustration of several players and its head coach, it also demonstrated it is still a younger team working to forge the right mindset.
Tompkins took the first two games somewhat easily, 25-18 and 25-22, but the second game featured a late 11-2 run by the visitors to tie the game at 21 before the Falcons pulled away again. That dam burst again in the third game, as Tompkins squandered a 9-1 lead before losing a back-and-forth set, 25-23. Tompkins played a listless fourth game, losing 25-15, before finally recovering in the fifth, 15-8, to win the match.
It was the Falcons’ last tune-up before starting district play Friday against Seven Lakes. Tompkins is 18-11.
Coach Allison Merrell said she wasn’t happy with the up-and-down play but noted that it was part of the maturation process of the roster. The roster only has three seniors, and the starting rotation currently has three freshmen and a sophomore in it.
“With this team, because it’s so young, I think that’s a growing moment for us that we’re continually having to fight against the negative,” she said. “It’s just a mental flip that we’re constantly working on.”
Senior Mika Gonzalez, who serves as a captain for the squad as well as a middle back and outside hitter, said they try to lead by example, but it can be tough with such a young team.
“Our motivation went down, and our attitude went down as well,” she said of the team’s play during the third and fourth games. “I think trying to keep everybody up and keeping people happy during the game, that’s kind of my role. Being just one of the three (seniors), that’s hard.”
The starting sophomore—outside hitter and stellar all-around player Paris Herrman—was one of the few sources of consistency in attack for the Falcons. She finished with 20 kills and an ace, but also several service errors. She admitted she sometimes struggles with balancing her power with precision.
“I’m working on building my speed,” she said of her serves. “I have a speed I’m trying to hit, and when I’m trying to hit that, I think it turns more into my aggression and where that’s going to go, instead of hitting it in.”
The Falcons committed 13 serving errors against Clear Falls, against 12 aces. Merrell said she wants her team to generate offense with serves, but there were too many errors against Clear Falls.
“I am okay with miss-serves when we’re playing aggressive, because we need to get people out of system, and that’s one of the best ways we can do that,” she said. “I’m OK with some miss-serves, but not 13.”
The other thing Tompkins will need to clean up heading into district play is defense at the net, which Gonzalez also identified as an area of improvement for her own game.
Tompkins only had six blocks for kills, and district play will bring more refined attacking sets and bigger outside hitters.
If Tompkins does well in district, it’ll likely be because its group of talented outside hitters mature quickly. Freshmen Cindy Tchouangwa and Tendai Titley finished with 13 and 10 kills, respectively, but struggled at times with defensive positioning. Merrell said the unit will also be boosted by the return of junior outside hitter Eliana Posada, who has missed time with an injured hand.
“Sometimes growing pains are a little hard, but the kids are very accepting of this challenge and they want to learn, and they want to do great, and I think that’s part of the high standards they set for themselves,” she said. “I think their belief in their ability and staying strong mentally, that will be the key. We have all of the pieces; it’s just putting them together and having everybody be on at the same time.”