Two seniors from two different volleyball teams were similarly optimistic after the first match of each of their seasons Thursday at Fort Calhoun High School.
Madyson Back's Pioneers bested Megan Green's Arlington Eagles three-sets-to-one — 19-25, 25-23, 25-17, 25-20 — in a Washington County showdown, but both starters were pleased with their contributions and what their teams proved against one another in the opener.
“Honestly, I don't like to brag, but I think I played pretty well,” Back said, cracking a smile. “But, overall, I wouldn't have been able to perform without Kenna (Greenwell) and Ri (Wells), and everybody being on their game. Everybody had there heads in the game today.”
Green was similarly pleased after her Arlington squad — coming off of a 2-25 season and with a new coach, Katarina Nelson — won the first set from Fort Calhoun on the Pioneers' home floor.
“I've just been really excited this year to have playing time,” she admitted. “And just seeing how much our team has come together, how much better we work together compared to last year and how much better we're going to keep getting.”
Thursday's match started with a 25-19 Eagles set win. After trading points to start, Ellie Lienemann's first kill of the season kicked off a mini-run for Fort Calhoun.
The Eagles battled back, however, with Maddie Brennfoerder's ace putting them ahead 8-7. The road squad's lead grew to as many as eight points when Kailynn Gubbels' kill propped her team up 22-14. Eventually, Arlington's Kate Miller clinched the set when she craftily pushed the ball over the net into a spot where the Pioneers were unable to handle it.
“It felt really great to come out and show everyone here, especially people who thought that we were going to be what we were last year, to show them that we're not (going to be),” Green said.
The first-set loss was also motivating for coach James Slie's FCHS squad, however.
“After, we just talked about what we were doing wrong,” Back said. “Our serve receive was really shaky, so we started working on that. We set goals for ourselves — literally, sat there and said, 'Let's set goals' — and we talked about communication.”
The huddle discussion worked for the Pioneers as they swept the next three sets. During the second, hits by Lienemann and Alivia Cullen kept their team in the hunt before three straight points — including Back's set-clinching spike — earned it a 1-1 tie.
Fort Calhoun then took control of the match with a 25-17 third set capped by a standout serving performance by freshman Olivia Quinlan. The ninth-grader ripped off multiple aces to put away the Eagles.
Last but not least, Slie's team built a 20-6 lead before winning the fourth set — and the match — 25-20 on Lienemann's last kill of the night. The Pioneers coach used his team's commanding lead as an opportunity to get substitutes, including senior Bailey Donovan and freshman Grace Genoways, playing time.
The end result was positive vibes for both teams as they embark on their 2019 seasons.
“There's a few things we can definitely tweak,” Back said. “But I really think we've got a pretty good chance this year.”
Green, meanwhile, answered a yes-or-no question about her Arlington team's future with an affirmative.
“Yeah,” she said. “I'm excited for the rest of the season, which isn't something I could have said last year. It feels nice to say.”