October 2, 2009 7:52:00 AM
CALEDONIA -- Kara Von Kanel and Sunnie Rushing wondered if all of the work was worth it.
Through the start of preseason in the summer and a season filled with long practices and work on fundamentals, the members of the Caledonia High School volleyball never really considered the payoff that would result from all of their hard work.
But when the Lady Confederates started having fun and piling up the victories, they soon discovered why coach Samantha Brooks had put them through the paces earlier in the season.
Caledonia is set to reap the benefits of all of that work at 11 a.m. Saturday when it travels to Madison St. Joseph''s in the first round of the Class I State tournament.
Region 1 champion Aberdeen also will play host to St. Andrew''s on Saturday.
"Thinking back, it seemed just long and hard and it was hard work," said Rushing, who is in her second season with the program. "Looking back, it was all worth it knowing that coach Brooks had us doing that for a reason and it has gotten us this far. It also has been fun."
Caledonia''s ability to keep things loose and blend the skills of players with different levels of experience has helped it come together.
Von Kanel, who has played several years of club volleyball and is one of the high school team''s most experienced players, said the Lady Confederates said fun things -- like a a body shake in which players bump their teammates after a good play -- have helped the players mesh.
"You have to have a balance," Von Kanel said. "You can''t be serious all of the time because it is not fun and no one will want to be here. You can''t be silly all of the time because you will never win. You have to have a balance to make it work."
Brooks saw the players put the team before individual accomplishments throughout the season. She said the players recently helped drive that point home when she went their comments for end-of-the-season evaluations.
"They said the team just jelled," Brooks said. "I just think they all had a common goal of winning and making a name for the program and themselves. I feel like this year more than anything each and every group had a goal to win. They put everything in it. It started early with the summer league and it was definitely to our advantage because I think we had more time to bond and to jell."
But Von Kanel and Rushing admitted it might have been difficult for them and their teammates to imagine the reward. All they were concerned with was the difficulty of their training.
"It felt like a lot of work in the beginning, like ''Oh, this is so unnecessary,'' " Von Kanel said. "Looking back, it was necessary. We all didn''t want to do it because it was a lot of work. It wasn''t just volleyball on the court. It was sit-ups, jumping jacks, pushups, running, all of that. It is very worth it."
The players have matured during the season and have come to realize that is how hard successful teams have to work to achieve their goals.
It also has helped that the players are all good friends and have supported each other through the ups and downs of a long season.
Rushing, who played soccer and softball before joining the volleyball team, said her friends convinced her to play volleyball, and she loves it. She said she was "scared" when she started playing because she was used to the other sports, but she said her teammates helped her learn the sport and make the transition.
"The team has worked very well together this year," Rushing said. "Somebody is always there to pick up somebody''s slack. I think it has increased a lot (from last year)."
Brooks said Rushing''s hunger to learn and her attitude also have helped the team stay positive.
She also credited Ashley Dodson for working well with Rushing in the middle to give the Lady Confederates consistent contributors.
Brooks also praised Von Kanel for being someone the younger players look up to. She said she has used her volleyball experience to be like another coach on the court who is helping her teammates discover their love for volleyball.
"K has been a good role model for the younger ones," Brooks said. "She is encouraging to the younger one and helpful to the younger ones."
Caledonia (11-4) closed the regular season Thursday with a 3-0 loss to Tupelo. Set scores were 25- 11, 25-9, 25-10.
The junior varsity team (11-1) also suffered its first loss of the season to Tupelo, and dropped its first games of the season.
Those losses might have been a low point this season for Caledonia, but Von Kanel and Rushing are excited about what the team has accomplished. They hope the Lady Confederates will be able to build on that Saturday.
"It''s a great accomplishment (getting to the state tournament)," Von Kanel said. "We have worked really hard, had a lot of practice, run a lot of suicides, and have had a lot of sore legs to get this far."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.