Embracing the grind
MICHIGAN CITY — Not every match is going to be pretty.
Some of them are going to be grinds. That’s OK with the Michigan City volleyball team. It is embraces the grind.
“We’re always going to come back hard and fight ’til it’s over,” Alexa Sparks said. “We’re shorter than usual. We’re a passing and defense team. We run, we lift (in the summer). We may not have won if we hadn’t done that.”
On a night when not a lot of things went especially well, the Wolves used that mental and physical resolve to outlast Duneland Athletic Conference foe Valparaiso 17-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11 at the Wolves Den, to remain undefeated.
“I thought we were too excited,” coach TR Harlan said. “Playing at home for the first time, it was a big crowd, Valpo brought a big crowd. We’re relying a lot on four sophomores and we had a lot of trouble calming down. A lot of times, it’s easier when you’re on the road and you’ve only got 10, 12 people there. We talk a lot about the conditioning we do. We’re not going to put teams away a lot. We expect to play all night and we’re OK with that. We’re going to have to outlast a lot of people.”
Harlan knew fairly early that Thursday was going to be one of those nights as Valpo pulled away with a 7-0 run in game one.
“I thought Valpo played harder than us,” he said, “If we’re doing the things we’re supposed to do and it’s not working, OK, but I don’t feel like we were where we were supposed to be. I don’t mind them missing serves if they’re aggressive serves, but they weren’t aggressive. I thought we made concentration mistakes. That was our downfall all night. But again, that’s having four 15-year-olds on the court in this atmosphere for the first time. Hopefully, they learned a valuable lesson.”
After going up 5-4 in the fourth, City (9-0) never trailed in the game. It also seized control early in game five, then responded after Valpo closed within 11-10.
“From the middle of game four on, I thought Reece (Shirley) and Emily (Kinney) took control of the team, like older stars are supposed to do,” Harlan said. “That made a big difference. We showed a lot of guts and did a lot of good things in game five.”
Kinney delivered 14 kills, one more than Shirley. Sparks paced the Wolves in digs (18), assists (17) and aces (3).
“We always work as a team,” Sparks said. “The younger girls look up to us and when someone gets down, we always make sure to pick them back up and get their minds back together, to help them keep going. This is the most optimistic team I’ve been on.”