Seven Blair senior volleyball players walked off of the gym floor with their team having just split two home sets.

Tuesday's Jamboree exhibition match against Omaha Mercy was much like their four years as Bears — full of ups and downs. Despite the grind with more losses than wins, the seven stand ready for their final season.

“We're all here because we like the game,” said No. 1, Emma Thoene. “There's no one here that's here because their parents forced them. We're here because we like the game.”

Mercy won the first set of the season against Blair handily, 25-8. Thoene substituted out and took a seat on the bench during play, seemingly trying to break down what was happening to coach Brandi Nicholson's Bears on the floor.

“There are things we can see aren't working that we are working to change,” the senior captain said. “We're changing things as we go. That's the best part of the Jamboree.”

Another BHS senior captain, Madyson Ray, made her own guess as to what happened during set No. 1.

“Every first game is just, kind of, scary to get what you've practiced out on a new court against new people,” she said. “It's just kind of nerve-racking.”

Volleyball teams with seven seniors rarely lack in varsity experience, but, in the Bears' case, they do.

“We got all the jitters out,” Thoene said of the first set. “Half of varsity has never played varsity or suited up for varsity before. That's a hard change. The pace is very different.”

Between the first and second sets, however, Blair found its footing. It showed confidence. It showed what a team with veteran leadership can do, experienced at the highest level of high school volleyball or not.

“It feels like a party in my head,” Ray said when asked what she was thinking after a 25-20 win in set No. 2. “This is what we've been working toward, so it's just really exciting to see it actually happen in a real game — (see it) just come to life.”

That's why the 2019 senior class — which also includes Dani Thompson, Makenna Dirkschneider, McKenna Schlueter, Katie Frazer and Hannah Keatts — is looking forward to coach Nicholson's second season in charge. The Bears feel good about who they are and what they've already established.

“There's leaders on every team,” Thoene said. “There's leaders on freshman team. There's leaders on JV. There's leaders on varsity. You don't have to be a captain to be a leader. Everyone's been stepping up when needed.”

Last year's BHS team notched seven wins, a three-win improvement from the year before. While even more are desired this fall, Thoene said her team already takes pride in working hard and relishing any win it can get — even if it means shaking off a rough first set against Mercy and winning the next.

“Learning that you're not always going to win makes the wins that much better,” she said. “You know you're working for it. You know its not being handed to you.”

“And it only goes up from here,” Ray added. “The first set was just the beginning, right? The second is what we can actually do.”

Seven Blair seniors will be walking on and off the court, enjoying the ride this season because volleyball is their game.

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