by Calli Newberry
Last night’s victory over Richmond marks another tally in the win column for the North Branch High School volleyball team whose record now stands 31-5 (9-0 BWAC).
The 3-0 sweep, however, left head coach Jim Fish with several areas of improvement for his team to focus on at practice this afternoon.
“Richmond played very well, they’re very well coached, but we’ve got to play better than that. We did the last game, but we struggled with hitting tonight and maybe the intensity a little bit, which I refuse to allow, so we’ve just got to continue to do better,” Fish said. “We tried a different defense and that didn’t work and then sometimes self doubt creeps in. We play best when we’re loose and having fun and we didn’t do that last night.”
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The Broncos also lost their lone senior Gracie Hyde to an injury on Tuesday night, leading Fish to bring up freshman Ella Swoish for her first varsity game.
“Our little freshman was shaking and I said, ‘Look, you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good, so play like it.’ And she played great tonight,” Fish said. “There are high expectations. The girls know them, they know there’s really high expectations. I don’t look at them as youth and I never treat them that way.”
With nine of the 17 roster spots taken up by sophomores, North Branch does have a very young team, but that doesn’t lower any expectations. Fish said he doesn’t look at age, but rather the effort and hard work his players put forth. And with such high expectations comes a lot of mental strength. Fish said he regularly brings articles and examples to talk about at practice and has the team work on high-pressure situations to prepare for championship matches later in the season.
“It is hard work, the kids have to buy in. We spend as much or more time on the mental part of the game than other teams,” he said. “There are other teams who can do the same things we do, but we are always going to be metnally tough and that sets us apart sometimes. We can do anything, we just have to believe it, work for it, and play that way. For 14 to 16 year old girls to truly embrace it and understand it, it takes time.”
But his team is getting it. The Broncos managed to rally from two rather close first sets, 25-18 and 25-17 to come back and win with a definitive 25-8 final set. Part of that came from the leadership of sophomore libero Hailey Green, who Fish called the “sparkplug” of Thursday’s win.
“I definitely think that our coach expects us to give 100% effort all the time and in practice we work on getting to every ball we can and reading the hitter. I’m expected to be all over the court and get every ball I can,” Green said. “I do put a lot of pressure on myself and my coach expects a lot from me, and I just have to know I have to do this whether I think I can or not.”
Green led the Broncos statistically with eight digs, but possibly a more important note that won’t show up in the books was the effort and excitement she brought to each point.
Sophomore setter Adrienne Greschaw led offensively with 32 assists and six aces. Sophomore outside hitter Alana Deshetsky had 14 kills and six digs and junior outside hitter Bailey Gormley added nine kills, two aces, and seven digs.
The Broncos can boast a 49-match winning streak in the BWAC with the opportunity to extend that to 50 and secure the conference title next Thursday over the second-ranked Imlay City who holds a 9-1 conference record.
“It’s a process. It’s one we always go through,” Fish said, holding up a shirt with his team’s slogan that says, ‘The journey continues.’ “That’s what we’re about right there. Our journey started back in August and we’re two-thirds of the way through. We should be peaking right now at the right time, at the end of the season heading into tournaments. It was a little bit of a setback today, but we’ll recover.”