When you start the season 1-6, it can be hard to find reasons to smile.
Calistoga High volleyball’s rough start ignited some bickering, some negative tone and some ill-advised reminders to teammates that they had just blown it. The tight-knit team seemed to turn on each other at certain moments.
“In past games, you get irritated with a teammate, you don’t say it, but your body language, your tone, or ‘Come on.’ That’s not cheering,” coach T’Anne Butcher said. “We all know how it feels when you are the one making mistakes. We don’t need you giving them more negativity than they already feel.”
So Butcher banned it. No complaining, no criticizing. She even extended it to off-the-court woes. Have a gripe about how your mom is bugging you or that you have a ton of homework? Keep it to yourself.
“It was ‘I have so much homework,’ or ‘I’m so tired.’ I was so sick of it,” she said. “For the last couple of weeks, anytime anyone complained about anything, they were going to have to run.”
There is a certain irony in it — a punitive approach to having more fun on the court.
But it worked.
Instead of bagging on teammates, the Wildcats encouraged each other to grin or keep their chin up.
“Back then, when I would make mistakes, honestly I would get mad at myself and I would take it out on my teammates. I would make the situation worse instead of making it better,” said junior Litzy Infante. “When a person has their bad face on, it affects the whole team.”
Junior Angeli Aquino said the team is so connected that they feed off each other — for better or worse. When the griping was at full tilt, it spread like wildfire. But now that they have made a commitment toward remaining upbeat, it, too, has spread and taken hold.
“If a person is down, then the whole team is down, too,” she said. “Our vibe is totally connected.”
So did the Wildcats catch on? Have they faced Butcher’s penalty since she laid down the law?
“No,” Aquino said. “No running yet. We learned that lesson.”
“It became something funny and a joke and then it was like, wow, we definitely know how to work with each other more,” Infante said. “Angeli told me, ‘If you smile, even if you don’t mean it, scientifically, it will bring you back up. She would look at me and say, ‘Litzy, smile.’”
“Even with my fake smile, I don’t know, it would bring me back up,” she said.
Rest assured, the fake smiles among the Wildcats are gone. These players are grinning for real now.
Now, Butcher isn’t saying the Wildcats’ hot streak is due to her prohibition on negativity, but it couldn’t have hurt. After that 1-6 start, Calistoga has gone 10-3, finished second in the North Central III race to a 12-0 Mendocino squad and earned the No. 8 seed in the North Coast Section Division 6 tournament.
They beat No. 9 seed Potter Valley 3-0 in the first round and then toppled No. 1 seed Fremont Christian 3-1 on the road in round 2 Saturday night.