MERCED — Allen McCreary has struggled with staying the course.
The practical side of the UC Merced women's volleyball coach knows that building a program is a process. Taking the time to lay the proper foundation will pay dividends down the road.
The coach and competitor in him wanted to win right away despite the slow-play approach.
It's made for an occasionally frustrating first two-plus years.
McCreary has trudged through the inevitable ups and downs and in year three is starting to enjoy the payoff.
With wins in four of their last five matches, the Golden Bobcats are 10-6 overall, 3-1 in the California Pacific Conference and threatening to turn in the first winning season in school history.
"It's been very tough to remain patient," McCreary said. "Coaches want to win, but the way we've gone about building it, you have to be.
"The biggest difference this season is the team really knows each other's tendencies. We've added a couple pieces to to help take us up a level, but for the most part it's the same team as last year.
"Having that year playing together has really made a big difference."
It makes sense.
Coming in as a late hire, McCreary's first team was comprised mainly of the existing UC club team.
His first recruiting class upped the level of talent on campus, but also brought in 10 new faces. The result was an 8-20 campaign and a lack of consistency from match to match.
"It's definitely been hard," said junior outside hitter Valeria Martinez. "The first year I came in as a freshman and didn't know anyone. The second year it was like a completely new team.
"This year we've really been able to come together, because we know each other. We laugh together. We cry together. We can be goofy together, because we're comfortable."
It was evident at Wednesday's practice.
The Bobcats are a much looser team than a season ago. The effort and intensity remained, but there was no shortage of smiles and high-fives as well.
"It's a much more relaxed team," McCreary said. "We're still coming at them fast, but they know the system now and know what to expect from each other.
"Plus, you can see their volleyball IQs going up a little everyday."
UCM will try to keep its run going tonight when it hosts UC Santa Cruz (17-4). The first serve is at 7 p.m. at Hostetler Court.
It's another opportunity for the Bobcats to show how far they've come.
"I think we came into this season with something to prove," setter Caroline Mack said. "We were tired of competing in matches and not being able to finish them off.
"We were tired of talking about what we needed to do and then not doing it. We were tired of talking.
"We needed to go out and just play. It's gone pretty good so far."