Evi Burke thinks that sometimes, when the Santa Rosa High volleyball team gets down, it’s crucial to get back to the basics.
They huddle up and remind each other to drop their shoulders when receiving, keep an eye on their platform, get their hips behind the ball. Yeah, all that, but something else, too.
“I like to say, ‘Everybody, let’s go around and smile. Look like we are having fun out here,’ which sometimes we forget to do,” the senior outside hitter said.
Burke is smiling when she says it.
It sure looks like the Panthers are having fun. They are 13-3 overall and 5-0 in a rough North Bay League-Oak Division that is rife with serious competition. Analy — the squad the Panthers bested 3-1 Tuesday night — and rival Montgomery are both 3-2 in league. Windsor, the team the Panthers face Thursday, and Cardinal Newman, the team they play on Tuesday, are both a deceptive 2-3. Maria Carrillo is 0-5.
Santa Rosa has been in the catbird seat since the start of the season. The Panthers returned the core group of players from last year’s team that went 15-2 overall and 11-0 in a shortened NBL season.
And it’s from those veterans that first-year coach Rob Beal sees crucial mid-match composure emerging. Because as talented as this squad is, they have fallen behind a time or two this season.
At practice Wednesday night, Beal addressed the team’s penchant for digging themselves into holes every now and again. There was knowing laughter.
“But I’ve never had a team that does such good job of digging out of it,” he said.
And according to Beal, the experience gleaned from gaining a lead and losing it, or starting off slow, might help them in the long run — knowing they have the talent and the drive to come back.
“The mindset of being down several points in a set doesn’t seem to change their play,” he said. “They don’t get down; their body language doesn’t tell me it’s over.”
And when it does happen, the team seems to be able to shake themselves out of it — together.
“What I’ve really found in this team, which has been different from a lot of other teams that I’ve played on, is that this team is really good at coming back again,” said senior libero Jenna Kim.
It’s that back-to-basics thing again. And the smiling.
“We want to have a perfect game and we get in our heads a little bit,” senior setter Sophia Oden said. “We are so into the game that we kind of just forget about the basics of volleyball and like getting our platform there, getting the ball and having some fun — we are kind of too focused on winning.”
In the NBL-Oak, that focus on winning can’t be all bad. The division is stout.
And Thursday’s match with Windsor will be a real test. The last time these two squads played, on Sept. 18, the Jags were without two key players and the Panthers knew it. Santa Rosa won 3-0.
But the Panthers are prepping for a Windsor team at full staff Thursday.
IF YOU GO
Who: Santa Rosa vs. Windsor
What: North Bay League-Oak Division volleyball
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Santa Rosa High