Trailing two games to one, Matt Thissen gathered his Golden Valley volleyball team in front of the bench.
The message was simple: Have fun.
Thissen then promptly watched his team fall behind 9-1 to Merced in the fourth game.
That wasn't the fun part.
The fun came when Golden Valley stormed back and eventually won the final two games to finish off a marathon 25-17, 16-25, 22-25, 28-26, 16-14 victory in front of a crowd of 800 at Cougar Arena.
"Just relax," Thissen said. "These six seniors, that has been the knock on them since they were freshmen.
"My whole team is a bunch of thinkers. They need to clear their mind and let their instincts take over and just play.
"They think too much. Maybe that's why they're all great students."
Neither team played its "A" game.
Golden Valley won despite committing 70 errors. Merced struggled just as much.
Playing in front of a large crowd against a crosstown rival had something to do with the sloppy play.
"We're not mentally tough, yet," said Golden Valley senior Gianna Bandoni.
"But we did enough to get the win.
"We just keep having so many ups and downs."
After dropping the first game, Merced (4-2 Central California Conference) seemed to get it going.
Kelsie Hanson finished with 14 kills. Laura Meller recorded 30 assists and five aces.
Merced had GV on its heels after winning the second and third games.
Hanson and company then jumped out to a 9-1 lead in the fourth game.
Then it fell apart.
Golden Valley (5-1 CCC) quickly climbed back by winning 11 of the next
14 points to tie the game at 14-14.
Kaitlin Davidson (13 kills) helped spark the comeback.
Thissen also went to his bench inserting Merissa Bondi into the back row and Jessa McMillen up front.
The reserves helped GV take a 20-18 lead and eventually Thissen's squad outlasted Merced 28-26.
"It killed us losing that huge lead in the fourth game," Merced coach
Brooke Wilson said. "We let them comeback and we gave the momentum right back to them."
The fifth game went back and forth early. Finally, Golden Valley took
control late as kills by McMillen and Courtney Vyfhuizen gave GV a 14-11 lead.
Merced came back to tie the game at 14-14. However, two straight hitting errors by Merced gave the win to Golden Valley.
"We are fortunate to win the way we played," Thissen said. "I think both teams are more capable than what they demonstrated tonight.
"A lot of that was nerves. I think there was a point in the third game where we tried to win by waiting for (Merced) to mess up instead of being aggressive."
Golden Valley will have a day to prepare before facing CCC leader Buhach Colony (6-0 CCC) on Wednesday night at Cougar Arena.
"Obviously we have to play a lot better because Buhach is really good on defense," Thissen said.
"We can't commit 70 errors and expect to win."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOLDEN VALLEY 3
At Golden Valley
25-17, 16-25, 22-25, 28-26, 16-14
GOLDEN VALLEY -- Kills: Kaitlin Davidson 13, Gianna Bandoni 9, Celeste Castillo 9, Shannon McMillin 9; Blocks: McMillin 4, Davidson 4, Castillo 4; Assists: Courtney Vyfhuizen 37; Digs: Ali Langford 20; Aces: Vyfhuizen 4.
MERCED -- Kills: Kelsie Hanson 14; Blocks: Marquitta Barron 2; Assists: Laura Meller 30; Digs: Nicole Vierra 18; Aces: Meller 5.
Records: Merced 4-2 CCC; Golden Valley 5-1 CCC, 7-4 overall.
JV -- Golden Valley won 2-0.
Freshmen -- Golden Valley won.