Friday the 13th became a turning point for Lady Tigers

Posted Monday, Oct. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Some seasons, there’s a defining moment that a team can point to when everything changed. Ask the Mansfield High volleyball team, and the consensus is that moment for this season came on Friday the 13th.

As if they were writing their own horror story, the Lady Tigers went into DeSoto and lost their opening district match. A season that had such promise in early August had hit its lowest point in mid-September.

“We had a pretty rough preseason,” head coach Judith McGill said. “We lost quite a few games and there was no chemistry on the court. We were making a lot of errors and there was a lack of leadership. Honestly, I had my concerns.”

Entering the season with a senior-laden roster and full of expectations, Mansfield sputtered through its non-district slate and then stubbed its toes entering 7-5A competition.

“That was quite an eye-opener to the kids,” McGill said of the DeSoto loss. “I don’t know if were weren’t taking people seriously, I just don’t know.”

But that Friday the 13th, shrouded in all its superstition, luck changed for the Lady Tigers. Or perhaps it wasn’t luck at all, but rather perspective.

“We came out just thinking, we were Mansfield,” senior outside hitter Morgan Mutti said. “Mansfield always has a good volleyball team, and we just thought that we could go out and beat everyone. So, we really had to start being more humble and working for our wins, and that’s when we finally started doing what Mansfield usually does.

“It was hard, especially because I think that’s the first time Coach McGill had lost a district-opening game, ever. It was unexpected and it showed us that we needed to start working harder.”

And that’s what Mansfield did. McGill decided to change some approaches to practice and the players recognized they needed to make some changes as well.

“We sat down and had a really big conversation,” McGill said. “Since then, the kids have really rallied around each other and around the team and been a little more focused.

“We really needed those seniors to step up and they did,” McGill added. “They answered my challenge and the challenges from each other. I’m pretty proud of them for changing directions, because we were definitely on the wrong course.”

Whatever Mansfield changed, it worked. The Lady Tigers ripped off 10 consecutive victories in district matches to take control of the 7-5A championship race. McGill will point out that nothing has been secured yet, but what is certain is that the team playing now isn’t the same team that started the season.

“We could still up in third or fourth place right now, so we’ve got still got some games to go,” McGill said. “But we’ve definitely changed directions.”

“We started working as a team more; we started working harder in practice,” Mutti added. “We starting setting goals for ourselves and identifying things we wanted to accomplish. That’s when we started to turn things around.”

Mutti also feels that while the team’s early struggles might make its record look unimpressive, the adversity they’ve gone through has forced them to not take anything for granted and to stay focused despite their current successes.

“I think it will benefit us in the long run,” she said.

All that senior experience has likely also helped the Lady Tigers win some close matches that could have been the difference between first place and fourth place.

“I do believe that once the seniors settled down, they started playing their role,” McGill said. “I think it helps to have that many seniors out on the court. A lot of teams out there have a lot of sophomores and freshmen, so I do think that has helped us a bit, especially in some tighter situations.”

But Mutti noted that it wasn’t just seniors that helped Mansfield climb from its depths. She praised teammate Allison Kuster, a junior libero who has worked as hard as anyone this season.

“In my opinion, she’s the best defensive player in our district,” Mutti said. “She works so hard.”

After analyzing the transformation of her team this year, McGill points out how simple the difference can be between a win and a loss.

“At the end of the day, it’s about making plays,” she said. “You just have to make two more plays than the other team. You just have to win by two, so as long as we make two more plays at the end of the day, we’ll take the win.”

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