The girls volleyball team from The Bishop's School had just come off a tough loss to La Jolla High School and a pair of defeats in a weekend tournament, so when it got a chance to storm to a convincing win, it jumped at the chance.
The Knights eased to victory in three games over Tri-City Christian of Vista on Sept. 15, toppling the Eagles, 25-19, 25-18, 25-7. The triumph pushed the Knights over the .500 mark at 4-3 and got them off on the right track in their first league match of the season.
"Everybody likes to win," Bishop's Coach Tod Mattox said. "We're getting better, and that's the best thing. This team was scrappy. They kept the ball in play and made us have to terminate rallies and serve tough."
Bishop's never trailed in Game 1, and used a string of five straight points to establish a 13-6 lead midway through the game. The Knights were patient in the first game, letting Tri-City Christian make a handful of unforced hitting errors. The Eagles got as close as 22-19, but Bishop's finished it out with three straight points with Leslie Strauss serving.
In the second game, Tri-City Christian kept it close, creeping up on Bishop's at 14-12 and then 19-15. Bishop's always had an answer, though, because after the Eagles took a 3-1 lead, they never pieced together three straight points the rest of the way.
Game 3 was decidedly different, as the Knights rolled to a lopsided victory. They appeared to have worn out the Eagles, whose hitting only got worse as the match wore on. Bishop's surged to a 9-3 lead on the service of Bailey McAllister and Stephanie Hesse, then scored 10 unanswered points to take a 19-5 advantage. Jenna Diggs contributed three kills down the stretch, and Strauss mixed in an ace.
"We have a bunch of young kids, so getting confident and sort of kicking someone's butt isn't a bad thing," Mattox said. "It's kind of nice for us to feel like we can take it to someone. It was nice to serve tough and put pressure on them. The close games are always good. Rally scoring keeps the games closer, so it's hard to blow anybody out."
Junior outside hitter Rachel Cocalis led the Knights with six kills. McAllister had four kills and added 14 digs.
Strauss contributed nine digs. Natalia Wrobel had five aces, and Kate Bell chipped on with six digs.
Mattox said the fact that no one player dominated was a good sign for his team. Spreading the ball around and getting contributions from every player on the floor, he said, will be integral to the Knights' success, especially on a team without any true individual star.
"We had a lot of kids contribute," he said. "There are some people we ask to do certain things, but we have a lot of volleyball players who can do a lot of different things. We have three different people who can set, and we always have a setter in the back row.
"It takes us a little longer to gel that way, because it's not just throw it up and let one kid hit it, but we're coming around slowly but surely. It's a fun group of kids."
Mattox said that, even as the Knights have moved into the league portion of their 2004 schedule, he's still working on developing certain skills and trying to make the team more consistent. He said the Knights had been averaging about five hitting errors per game, and that number was down to just over three in the match against Tri-City Christian.
"Offensively, we look at our hitting percentage. We did a lot better job of not making hitting errors on sets that weren't great," he said. "We had been trying to do too much on sets that weren't great. Defensively, blocking is the toughest area to teach, and we did a good job. Nicole Ballon-Landa led us in blocking and has been doing a very nice job for us."
Tri-City Christian slipped to 8-5 with the loss, which also came in its first league match of the season. Eagles Coach Gail Malone praised the Knights' approach, which she said killed any chance of her team stealing a win.
"They played pretty consistent, and we didn't play our game at all. We're capable of playing much better," Malone said. "They did their job. They played consistent volleyball and kept the pressure on us. Their setters were really consistent."
She bemoaned her team's sloppy play, but credited Bishop's for a match in which the Knights set well, hit well and made very few mistakes.
"We'd make a great play and then miss a serve. We never really got anything going," Malone said. "Good for them. They could have fallen down to our level, but they didn't."