A jigsaw puzzle is a delicate task, having to separate a variety of different pieces and try various combinations to make a perfect fit. But the effort and rigor is rewarding and the result is often beautiful and satisfying.
One knows what the end result is supposed to resemble but some have different methods of assembling the uniquely shaped pieces.
A two-year collegiate sports program is an intricate enigma; sometimes one loses pieces along the way, being forced to transform other pieces to fill the hole. Other times one has to constantly tweak every piece to correlate with each other. Remnant by remnant, with the right pieces, the aspired final result is a National Championship.
Sinclair Volleyball seems to think all the pieces are within reach. The start of their regular season on Aug. 23 marks the beginning of the process of carefully crafting the perfect puzzle.
Last year, some of the pieces just didn’t link up how they were supposed to by the end of the season.
The 21-15 Tartan Pride made a strong appearance in the district tournament before dropping back to back games to Mott CC and Oakland CC both 3-1.
Head coach K.C. Gan thought the issue was confidence, but apparently, inside the team, the perspective was different.
According to returning Sophomore captains Nicole Sicking and Hallie Holbrook, the issues were based around how the team cared for its other players and not altering tournament rotations.
From the beginning of last year, all the incoming freshmen (who are now sophomores) instantly felt a divide from the already established sophomore prospects. Other than rare instances, that feeling carried into the late surge of the season.
When adversity struck, there would often be blame thrown every which way and some of the returning players would act sour with claims that someone else is ruining their last season,
Their belief they had in their teammates was clear when, after the first loss in the tournament, Holbrook recalled trying to uplift her devastated teammates who were crying, enraged about team performance.
“They were crying after the first loss, and I was trying to tell them we have way more opportunities, trying to get their mental stability back on track,” Holbrook said, experiencing tremendous comebacks in her high school years.
But instead of encouraging her teammates, Holbrook ruffled some feathers instead of actually getting through with her attempt at leadership.
The cold hard truth from the players who witnessed it is that some other players checked out, not believing in the team as a whole.
But the root of the problem can be tracked down to behavior all year, as almost everyone on the team last year addresses the distance between arriving freshmen and returning sophomores.
That’s something Sicking, Holbrook and another sophomore, Lydia Metallinos vows to vanish.
One of the number one goals for this team’s veterans is to form very solid relationships with incoming players and to not only make them feel as welcome and comfortable as possible but also better volleyball players and human beings, just like they would’ve wanted last year.
It’s clear to see they realize the importance of team chemistry, and although they’ve had a limited amount of offseason activities where everyone was able to show up, the captain Holbrook wants to establish the value of being a family, as well as a team early on.
“I don’t think they realize how much we’re going to rely on each other, on the road it’s just us. We’re a family, we have to trust each other and I want that to be the atmosphere. I’ve told my deepest, darkest secrets to some of those girls,” Holbrook said. “I hope some of these girls will stand with me at my wedding. It’s hard to establish really strong bonds, because it’s a two year university but that’s what kind of friends I’m looking for.”
The seed for some of those bonds were planted on Aug. 16, when the Tartan Pride kicked off this season with the annual scrimmage against the D-II Rio Grande Red Storm.
It’s great for Sinclair to be able to get the season started against some upper-level competition.
They dropped the match in a very scrappy 4-1 fashion. Obviously, the four-year university had a slight edge in talent and a huge edge in experience, but Sinclair shook a lot of rust off in the matchup. They were often behind but always fighting. They did exceptionally well for not even being fully put together yet.
As they have been thoroughly preparing for the season, building a foundation for the team, and calculating lineups, they look to Coach Gan’s mental health approach of coaching to make the unit more cohesive.
“He brings everything together and molds it into a team but he also has a certain personality about him that changes players’ attitudes as well,” Sicking said.
No doubt that the team is working vigorously, restlessly awaiting the start of the season, as they state that players are stepping up when it comes to improvement and chemistry and they have a feeling they are equipped for success.
Freshmen like captain Tayler Doty, Lydia Conley and Danielle Barhorst have strived since arriving to offseason activities and become better teammates as well as sharpening their skills.
Doty embraces the challenge of adapting to college ball and acknowledges the grind.
“I’m sure they’re all the same way I am, we’ve all played within the same system since high school. I know since 8th grade, I’ve been playing with all of the same girls,” Doty said. “It’s just a big adjustment, and some of us are adjusting better than others but I think we’re all on the same page and we’ll be where we want to go.”
Almost everyone on the team is stepping up and trying not only to improve but help others around them improve as well.
One thing is for sure, the puzzle pieces are there, and they know how to stick. But it’s up to Coach to place them very carefully, while using the right ones.
Gritty sophomore role player Lydia Metallinos, who has stepped up tremendously over the past year has much higher expectations this year compared to last year’s team who was successful beyond its own peril.
With great chemistry, toughness and more than enough talent required, she sets the bar “in the sky.”
“I don’t think I’ve been on a team where I love everyone so much,” Metallinos said.