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What's ahead in the Lady Railers' postseason, Part I

By Rick Hobler

[OCT. 21, 2005]  Lawyers always put disclaimers on their published writings.

So here are mine.

Disclaimer 1: This article is written by me in a nonobjective manner as an unabashed fan of the Lady Railers' volleyball program and especially its fine coaches and its wonderful players. Therefore this article will be written with bias. No apologies will be given for writing in this manner.

Disclaimer 2: Any observations that appear to be negative toward the Lady Railers should be reread by the reader in order to understand that what appears to be negative is really an attempt to suggest areas of needed improvement from a person who only wants to inspire success in young people for whom the writer deeply cares.

Disclaimer 3: This writer is not a volleyball coach. Coaches Howe, Conrady, Crawford and Allred each have more knowledge about volleyball in their pinky fingers than I have in my entire brain. Therefore, this article might be completely wrong. The article will, however, reflect my observation of around 70 games played by the Lady Railers this season alone.

Wherefore I say as follows:

With one of the better records in the area and in the CS8 Conference, the prospect of postseason success for the Lincoln Lady Railers looks hopeful. I will first briefly address where I see some of that hope. Still, some concerns remain. These concerns can be overcome. I will address the concerns next.

After writing in this column several weeks ago that I thought something was "missing" from the Railers, I have received an abundance of advice on what some think is "missing" from the Railers. I have appreciated everyone's perspective. And I should note, almost everyone has a perspective. Here is mine, right or wrong.

First, what are some the main reasons for postseason hope for the Lady Railers?

  1. Senior Erin Frick continues to be the Railers' main cause for hope in this postseason. This is as it should be. The weight of any great team falls upon its great seniors. If I were setting, the ball would go to her every time she is on the front row, until and unless someone stops her. Every time Erin.

  2. Multiple other weapons on the Railer front row are another cause for hope. If someone does stop Erin Frick or when she rotates out, the Railers have a wealth of talent to go to: Natalie Boward, Jamie McFadden Ashley Meyrick, Kate Schonauer and others can and will finish things at the net when given the opportunity. There is so much talent on the front row; let's use all of it.

  3. Great serving. This entire team, including most notably Ashley Bonaparte and Shanan McLaughlin, has the ability to place a serve about any place they choose to… when they focus.

  4. Hustling defense. The Railer back-row defense has, for the most part, defended the court. Serve receive has been a weak point in some games for unknown reasons. But, once the ball is in play, no one can say that the Railer back row doesn't give it their all. Michelle Fitzpatrick, Katie Conklen, Melissa Ramlow, Shanan McLaughlin, Natalie Boward and others have dug out hits that were as hard as I have ever seen this year. They have also cleaned the floors of many a gymnasium with their effort to get to a ball this year. That must continue.

  5. Playing beyond their years. It is easy to forget sometimes that this Railer team is young. We have three great seniors, but only three. Many other teams with only a few seniors on them do not even have winning records. The Lady Railers are the exception. The bulk of the team's rotation is made up of some pretty amazing juniors and sophomores and even a couple of competent freshmen. But at this time of year, if you want to play on, everyone on the court must play beyond their high school classification. Everything must go, as it is often said, "to the next level." The Lady Railers are fundamentally sound. They must go to a level where they are fundamentally excellent. Serve receive must become excellent, setting must become excellent, blocking must become excellent, defense of the whole court (even the back corners) must become excellent.

  6. No panic players. The Railers have been behind on the scoreboard on several occasions this year. That fact does not cause them to panic. They are cool, calm and collected under pressure. That ability is required in the postseason.

  7. Great coaching. As I said earlier, these fine coaches know how to get it done and how to get the most out of their players. Besides that, they love these young ladies, just like they were their own. Who could ask for more than that?

While there are surely many others, these are some of the main reasons I see right now to hope for a great postseason. Other reasons for hope will surely develop as the postseason progresses.

[to top of second column in this article]

What might be the missing elements for the Lady Railers? Let me start with one or two minute details and work to the bigger picture.

  1. Unfocused serving. With the advent of rally scoring several years ago, EVERY serve becomes crucial. In some big games this year, the Railers seem to have had three to maybe as many as six serves go out or in the net. This just can not happen in big postseason games against good teams. Every serve from the first one to the last one must be seen as the potential one that wins or loses a match.

  2. Lack of communication during a point and between points. I am well aware that not many people are as loud or as talkative as I am during a volleyball game (a fact for which most people are eternally thankful), but the Railers are unusually quiet. There are a couple of exceptions to this statement, but in general there is just not enough communication going on between players. Sometimes this results in lost points. A fundamental rule that every volleyball player learns in fifth-grade volleyball is "call the ball" and its associated rule, "If you call it, you get it." As gymnasiums get louder during the postseason and it becomes harder for coaches on the bench to be heard over the crowd noise, it will become increasingly important for the on-the-floor communication and leadership to increase. I want to challenge the "quiet leadership" of the Lady Railers to come out of your "quiet shell" for the next few weeks for the sake of your team. Those exceptions, who do talk
    -- keep it up and ramp it up.

  3. Lack of self-confidence. Some team members and even the team as a whole, especially against certain other teams (like Normal Community, etc.), seem to lack confidence in their ability to win. We seem to sometimes have an "Oh my gosh" syndrome against some teams. As in "Oh my gosh, we are going to have to play so-and-so, and they always beat us in the postseason." Or "Oh my gosh, we have the toughest sectional bracket to get to Redbird." This has got to stop. When the Railers play with confidence and put aside such false notions that someone always beats them, they will win. Yes, we have a tough sectional complex to play through. So what? To BE the best, you have to BEAT the best. Railers, I have seen you play. YOU ARE ONE OF THE BEST. So let's get to it.

  4. A lack of focus on each point. I know that fans and players alike get excited when the score reaches 24 to something. There is a great deal to be excited about when the game or match is about to end. But players realize, and in the postseason must focus on the fact, that EACH POINT is as significant as any other. Every point must be played like you are on the verge of extinction. I have seen some amazing plays made by many teams when they feel they are about to lose a match because the other team has 24 points. Why do these amazing efforts seem to always appear on the possible last point and not throughout the match? Focus. IT'S ONE-AND-DONE TIME, LADIES, so the first point, the sixth point, the 15th point, the 20th point and, yes, the 25th point are ALL crucial. Play like they are.

  5. Too low team spirit. I know that varsity volleyball is a VERY competitive matter. Playing time is a much-whispered-about and much-discussed topic among players, parents, coaches and others. And when the person who is competing for your playing time is successful on the court, there is a tendency to hold back on being happy for them. That normal human tendency, to put self-interest above the team's interest, impacts team spirit in many negative ways. Every team suffers from this in some ways. The Railers suffer from it far less than many teams, but I still sense it. The Railer team spirit has improved over the course of the season. If the Railers intend to play at Redbird, the team spirit will have to improve even more. This is a crucial life lesson that sports MUST teach. As a team T-shirt I saw recently said, "Not ME, But WE."

  6. A need for a stronger "refuse to lose" attitude. If I could pinpoint one thing that I think must improve in the postseason, this would be it. While I rarely see the Railers panic when they get behind (which is good), I sometimes, against some teams, sense a subtle "giving in" when they are down on the scoreboard. To the extent this is true, it has to stop. I would challenge the Railers to pick out a one- or two-word phrase amongst yourselves that you will say to one another on the floor, in order to communicate to each other that you are not losing this game or match. An example would be this kind of simple phrase: "NOT TONIGHT!" Translation. We are not going to lose tonight. We are not going to let our season end tonight. We are not going to let this be the last game the seniors play. We might lose another night before it's all over, but we refuse to lose tonight. NOT TONIGHT! You choose your own phrase or you are welcome to use mine, but this is the attitude I am hoping for. Your mind is your most powerful volleyball weapon. Use it.

OK, I have probably said too much already. Lady Railer fans can let me know if they agree or if they want to have me shot.

I can only talk and write. The Lady Railers have to play the games. I am confident that they will with all their heart and strength. I think this team will surprise everyone, maybe even themselves, by showing up at Redbird Arena in a couple of weeks. Ladies, YOU ARE THE BEST… however it goes. GO, RAILERS!!

Who will the Lady Railers face in the postseason?

I will take a look into my own "crystal (volley)ball" this weekend and share my thoughts, predictions and dreams on these matters in Tuesday's online edition Stay tuned.

[Rick Hobler]

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