Through the two previous winter volleyball seasons I've seen here, I only have ever seen one thing in Dolgeville's gym.
That's why I was a little concerned when I saw the scores of the first three matches played by the Lady Blue Devils this season, which all went to five games.
Now, they won all three matches, so like they say, any one you can walk away from ...
Of course, I don't think my concern was shared by Dolgeville coach Barb Allen, or at least not to the same degree. Talking with her after the Dec. 6 tournament, she was calm as ever.
Her Lady Blue Devils had went 9-1 in the pool-play tournament, splitting with Beekmantown and losing the tiebreaker (point differential in head-to-head competition). Some of the ease in Allen's voice may have come from the fact her team, with few inexperienced players, was ready for a 10-game tournament so early in the season. It wasn't perfect, but Allen said the girls responded well when they had their backs against the wall.
"Today, we didn't pass well or serve receive well in the first game with Beekmantown," she said. "It was a tough one. We knew they [Beekmantown] had a possibility to win our tournament right then and there. We turned it around and Colleen Darby had two big blocks at the beginning of that second game. They didn't give up."
On one hand, the early five-game matches show just how much of an impact was made by the three seniors who graduated from the team last season. The power numbers were all put up by Juleah Vedder and Natasha Mamrosh, but Kathleen Pescatore, too, made important contributions.
Vedder and Mamrosh were hard to beat at the net. Hard to block, hard to hit past. Vedder's serves cleared the net like she had swung a sledgehammer instead of her right arm.
There had to be a learning curve at the beginning of the season, as the 2008-09 Lady Blue Devils adjusted to the absence of those departed players and stepped into their new roles. But, they've learned.
One thing they've learned, and earlier than most teams have to, is how to win when the chips are down. In each of the three matches that went the distance, the Dolgeville girls traded games with the opposition. Win won, lose one.
Just be sure to win the last one.
That's what they did. Even when Cooperstown, led by Katie Horrigan with 20 kills, was knotted at 22-22 with Dolgeville in the fifth game. Pulling out the win in a situation like that has to help these girls as the season progresses.
"It's a real gut-check when you've gone five games and here you are 22-22 and you have to have that mental toughness to gut it out," Allen said. "It takes mental and physical toughness to swing away and go for it."
Since the Cooperstown match, the Lady Blue Devils have swept their last two contests, although not against the section's top competition. Still, they've shown they can remain focused after they get a comfortable lead.
They've also shown more consistency with their serves, which is something unrelated to whoever is standing on the other side of the net. The serve has been a staple of the Dolgeville attack and something every opponent has had to prepare for and dread. If the Lady Blue Devils can keep that consistency, they will be one step closer to emulating the excellence of previous squads.
In the last week, they have started playing faster. Chelsie Petras was a setter and a back-row player last season, but has been moved to middle this season and has made the adjustment. Lexy Barretta has adjusted to playing the right side for Allen and has adjusted to the speed of the team.
The new girls who came up from the junior varsity to join this squad have started getting used to Allen and getting used to playing a best-of-five instead of a best-of-three.
The first match of the season was against Adirondack and those newcomers were tossed into the fire right away against the team that has been finishing second in the Center State Conference-Division I in recent years. When it went two games longer than any match those girls had played, they had to be quick studies to help in the win.
In an unusual twist this year, Dolgeville will play Adirondack for a second time before Christmas break. The rematch is on the road Friday. Then the Lady Blue Devils will host undefeated Oppenheim-Ephratah in a make-up game Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.
Getting to the break undefeated and with more ease than in the early season would be a nice present from the girls to Allen and give them momentum coming out of the two-week layoff.
Bill Cain is a sportswriter for The Leader-Herald. We invite your feedback on this or any other sports-related topic. E-mail your opinions or ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.