The Le Grand volleyball team got a lesson in finishing opponents off Monday night.
The Bulldogs are locked in a three-team fight for the final two playoff spots in the Southern League, entering Monday tied for third with Mariposa. The only way to ensure their place in the postseason is to run the table the rest of the way. That plan was almost foiled before it got going as Le Grand eased off the gas prematurely in a home match with Gustine.
After back-to-back dominating performances in sets two and three, the Bulldogs let their focus and intensity wane. The Redskins took advantage, forcing a fifth and decisive set. LG rallied in time to pull out a 22-25, 25-5, 25-11, 23-25, 15-11 victory, but not without a few tense moments.
“We lost the intensity after we won the third game,” senior Arisbeth Ceja said. “We felt like we had the fourth game without even having to try. We were just running and going through the motions. We weren’t really bonding together, and that messed us up.
“We were just like, ‘Oh we’ve got it. We’ve got it in the bag.’ They were here to play and they showed us.”
The frustrating part for Le Grand coach Gia Priddell was the turnaround had nothing to do with a lack of effort. Embracing their coach’s ‘defense wins championships’ mentality, the Bulldogs (9-5, 8-3 SL) flung themselves all over the court from start to finish.
The effort was just a little more effective in some sets than others.
Gustine’s Macey Pires (team-high 10 kills) had the hot hand early, recording three quick kills as the Redskins (4-7 SL) built a 6-3 lead. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead, pulling out a tight opening set 25-22.
The setback seemed to bring the Bulldogs to life.
With Alyssa Bueno (match-high 29 assists) orchestrating the offense with precision and Ceja (match-high 16 kills, four blocks) and middle blocker Crystal Garcia (four kills, three blocks) leading the way, Le Grand jumped out to leads of 21-3 in set two and 20-5 in set three.
Then as quickly as the Bulldogs seized control of the match, they relinquished it.
“It’s a mental thing,” Priddell said. “They need to learn to finish things off when they have the opportunity. I told them we had a lot of scrappiness tonight and we came out with good aggression, but then we’d make mistakes. Serving is a big part of the game. It seemed like every time we’d get a big side out and some momentum, we’d seem to give it right back with a bad serve.
“We need to to be mentally tougher in those situations.”
LG’s mental toughness was pushed to the test in just their second fifth set of the season.
Things started well enough as the Bulldogs raced out to a 7-1 lead, but Gustine displayed the grit it had shown all night and responded. Heather Smith and Brooke Alamo recorded back-to-back kills as the Redskins pulled within 12-10. Ceja finally ended the tension with a pair of kills.