The closer Great Crossing volleyball gets to the rarefied air atop the 11th Region mountain, the more opportunities there are for situations that can cause even the most talented, experienced teams to hyperventilate.
Four consecutive losses to rivals from Lexington, three of them in five sets and two by the slimmest possible margin, have the Warhawks stuck on the edge of a learning curve.
Bryan Station rallied from down two sets and two match points in the fourth on its way to a win on Great Crossing's court Tuesday night.
That piggybacked a Monday loss at Tates Creek in which GC won two of the first three sets and was on the brink of closing out the Commodores in the fourth. Last week, the Warhawks dropped a five-set decision at Frederick Douglass.
“We've got to find a way to come together. They're playing like a group of very talented individuals. We've got a lot of really good kids, but I just told them this is going to continue to happen until they decide to play as a team,” GC coach Adam Ivetic said. “That's gotta start with our seniors, and it's gotta go all the way down. We have all juniors and seniors.
"These kids have all been here before, and it's just a matter of getting their brains right. It's not the volleyball. It's getting their brains in winning mode.”
On the heels of last year's championship in the 41st District, Great Crossing (3-4) rolled past Lafayette, Madison Southern and Scott County out of the gate, vaulting to No. 4 among 11th Region teams in a poll of the state's coaches.
Being two points away from victory at Tates Creek – ranked No. 16 in the state – was a glimpse both at how closely the Warhawks compare to the elite programs and also how slim is the margin of error. They lost that one 15-8 in the fifth set.
“Ultimately, nobody remember these games. Everybody remembers what happens in the district tournament and the region tournament,” Ivetic said. “My hope is that our seniors pick us up from here, and we can fix all this stuff by the time playoffs comes around. By the time we get to regions, we're going to have more five-setters than anybody else, so hopefully that experience pays off for us.”
Bryan Station (4-2) bolted to an early lead in each of the first four sets. Great Crossing rallied to wins of 25-20 and 25-22 before the Defenders stayed alive with a 25-22 verdict in the third chapter.
GC used back-to-back kills by Grace Brooker and aces from Morgan Caba and Teagan Feezor to turn the tide in the fourth, but a run of four points by the Defenders provided a stunning reversal at the end.
“It's our serve receive. It's something we work on every day in practice. It just kind of let us down,” Ivetic said. “I don't know if I've ever experienced anything quite like this as a coach. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do.”
Ryann Thomas started the fifth set with an ace, but Bryan Station rattled off five consecutive points before Brooker's pu-taway and a block by Jasmine Koonce keyed yet another GC comeback.
Caba and Kirstynn Yarber made incredible digs to salvage a point and tie the deciding game at nine. Marley Staats' block gave GC its final lead before another 5-0 Station run set up a series of match points.
Annie Pearson kept the match alive with an ace. Thomas hammered home a winner to get GC within one, but Elena Verdecchia's kill sealed the deal for Station.
Great Crossing has been forced to adjust on the fly after Alora Wilson was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. And of course every team is dealing with the season's unusual early cadence due to fan and weekend tournament restrictions.
'I don't think I can blame COVID on this one,” Ivetic said. “It's just us. We've got to figure it out. This group can definitely do it.”