August 26, 2014 3:30:52 PM
When things click, sometimes there is no explanation.
Allie Allsup and Harli Sesser realized the Heritage Academy volleyball team wasn't quite itself in season-opening losses to Caledonia and Starkville. The Lady Patriots defeated both schools last year, so the losses to open the 2014 season were puzzling and caused them to wonder what was going wrong.
Heritage Academy went a long way Friday and Saturday to answering those questions. Buoyed by a 6-2 showing, Heritage Academy finished second to Tuscaloosa Academy in the Tuscaloosa Christian tournament. The Lady Patriots staved off three match points Saturday against Tuscaloosa Christian to advance to the title match.
"I think everything came together in the tournament and we started playing as a team," said Sesser, a senior middle blocker. "I also think some of our girls who don't like volleyball as much as they do they liked it this weekend because we were doing so good and everything really came together."
Allsup said everything "flowed" and the team communicated so much more than it did in its first two matches. Sesser said the Lady Patriots played like a totally different team than the one that lost to the Lady Confederates and Lady Yellow Jackets.
So what was the reason for the turnaround?
"It was just like this passion that overtook us," Allsup said. "We needed this win. We fought for it, too. We played so well together. It finally clicked and we were there."
Allsup, a senior setter, showed off one of the bruises she took home from diving on the floor for loose balls. Sesser said her teammates had plenty of mementos to take home after two days of spirited play. More importantly, she said the team learned the attitude it needs to have if it is going to win matches.
"I feel like we didn't come mentally prepared for Caledonia and Starkville," Sesser said. "We knew coming into the weekend that the tournament was going to be pure volleyball, so I think we were more prepared mentally, and volleyball is such a mental sport."
Allsup said she was in a "different mind-set", almost care-free, but she said she had the mentality that nothing was going to get by her and that she was going to do her best to keep her hitters involved. She said all of the players knew they had it in them to beat Tuscaloosa Christian, and the players communicated and supported each other through all of the ups and downs in the match to pull it out.
"There was so much energy on the court, especially during that third game (against Tuscaloosa Christian)," Sesser said. "It was going back and forth."
Said Allsup, "It was just exhilarating because you know you don't want to play a game like that and lose it in the end."
Heritage Academy coach Liz Fields, a former player at Alabama, said she was extremely proud of the girls for fighting in the third set with the outcome on the line. She said she was especially proud of the six seniors who have been with her (and former co-head coach Liz Byrne) since the inception of the program. Since the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools doesn't have a postseason tournament for volleyball, Heritage Academy won't have a chance to play for a championship at the end of the season. That's why Fields felt the team's performance last weekend in notching what she believes was its best showing at a tournament was so important.
"They just had a passion and an effort," Fields said. "I am so proud of the girls that they came back three times and stopped them (on match point). They stuck it out and came together as a team and encouraged each other and made it happen. It was really cool to see."
Fields said the team was nervous in its first two matches of the season. As a result, she said she saw the players do some uncharacteristic things, which led to some sloppy play. Entering the Tuscaloosa Christian tournament, Fields said she was eager to see how Heritage Academy responded to losing its first two matches. The team went 5-1 on Friday to secure a spot in the semifinals.
"The girls went after it right away and made the weekend much more enjoyable," Fields said. "They definitely came together and something clicked. I think they said, 'We are here, so let's make it count and not waste our time and play hard. ... It was a special moment for the seniors to have before they finish the season."
Fields hopes the Lady Patriots remember the feeling of that semifinal victory and play each match the rest of the season with passion and effort. If her players do that, Fields believes more success will come their way.
Allsup and Sesser agree, and they plan to help the Lady Patriots make it happen.
"If we keep up the momentum and don't let ourselves get down in a rut, and don't lose the faith of us not getting back up to where the other team is, it will all come together," Allsup said. "We just need to talk. ... If we get that under control, it is golden."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.