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NWC volleyball downs Rocky Mountain to open season

Northwest sophomore Aleksandra Saric kills the ball against Rocky Mountain JV in a season opener Tuesday night in Cabre Gym. Saric lead the team with 16 kills. Northwest sophomore Aleksandra Saric kills the ball against Rocky Mountain JV in a season opener Tuesday night in Cabre Gym. Saric lead the team with 16 kills. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky

Lady Trappers to search for identity in coming weeks

Northwest College’s Lady Trapper volleyball team got off to a 1-0 start with a Tuesday win over the Rocky Mountain JV, but their coach says the coming weeks will be his inexperienced team’s true test.

“This team is funky, because I wouldn’t bet against them, but I wouldn’t bet on them just yet,” said NWC head volleyball coach Shaun Pohlman. “I don’t know how good we are; I don’t know how bad we are. We really gotta play a game that matters. ... The weekend will tell us a ton.”

The Lady Trappers took three of four sets against Rocky Mountain on Tuesday, which followed a loss in five sets to Montana State University Billings in a Saturday practice game.

Lady Trappers 3, Rocky Mountain JV 1

NWC officially kicked off its season by hosting the Rocky Mountain JV.

The Lady Trappers lost the first set 25-20, but came back to win the next three: 25-21, 25-14 and 27-25.

Aleksandra Saric led the way for the Lady Trappers, with 16 kills and six blocks.

Samantha Waite, an injured reserve player, had six kills and no errors. Julianna Hughes had six blocks, while Holly Pittman had six aces and six blocks.

Bre Donarski had 23 digs and Luana Rezende had 22 digs and nine kills. Jess Ruffing had 27 assists, Kaille Becking added 12 assists and Demery Dean had 11.

Even with the win, Pohlman said he was not happy with the performance.

“Hitting continues to be our worst thing,” said Pohlman, citing a continuing problem with hitting errors.

He also faulted the team’s low energy.

“From the bench, we didn’t have people talking; we had people quiet,” Pohlman said.

He added that, “this weekend is gonna be a huge wake up call. I mean, we are just gonna get smacked around. We are going to be lucky to come home 1-3. And it’s what we need at this point.”

During the two-day tournament at the Salt Lake City Tournament, NWC will face Otero Junior College, Salt Lake Community College, College of Southern Idaho and Miami-Dade College — the defending national champions.

Pohlman said that, among the conference’s other teams, NWC has the toughest schedule in the first two weeks of the season. He said it’s possible the Lady Trappers could end the stretch 1-8.

“I’m not saying we are going to get blown out, although I do think we are going to get blown out by a team or two just because mentally we have not committed ourselves to do what it takes, because we don’t know what it takes,” the coach said.

By next week, Pohlman predicted he may be saying that his team came together and learned what it takes — or that the team learned what it takes but is unwilling to rise to the challenge.

“It could be two different statements that I make and that would be my challenge to them,” said Pohlman. “They have a choice as to what I am communicating to the general public or whatever next week, regardless of results.”

Pohlman said he doesn’t care about losing, per se; he would rather see improvement in those losses. As a coach at a two-year college, he said it’s about process — developing players’ skills and improving from week to week so they can be ready to play volleyball at the next level.

“We want to teach kids how to play the game better, how to see the game better, how to do more than just go for a ball. So the problem is we get a lack of effort because it’s not the focus,” Pohlman said. “There’s a learning curve because it’s a lot of freshmen. There’s a buy-in process, there’s a hesitation, then there is frustration because of the hesitation.”

Pohlman said his team has been trying to be perfectionists, which translates to not wanting to make a mistake, causing players to freeze up and not stray outside of their comfort zone.

“I can’t say that I haven’t been here before,” he said. “I’ve been lost as far as like, ‘OK what exactly does this team need?’ I know what this team is, [but] that doesn’t always mean that I know what it needs just yet. I think what it needs is commitment, and true commitment. This isn’t high school, it’s not club volleyball anymore.”

The coach was quick to add that, “we’ve got some good talent; we’ve got some good volleyball players,” but he said that “right now, it’s almost like we don’t have this common fight and common goal.”

This year, the team is generally starting over, with 10 freshmen and six returning sophomores with little experience.

MSU-Billings 3, Lady Trappers 2

On Saturday night, the Lady Trappers fell to MSUB 25-21 in the first set and 25-20 in the second. NWC came back in sets three and four to win 25-23 and 25-15 respectively to force a fifth game, but MSUB took it 15-12.

During the first game, the Lady Trappers were never more than five points behind, trailing MSUB by one to three points for most of the set.

“We were right there, neck and neck,” Pohlman said, who offered “kudos to MSUB” for improving from a prior match-up on Aug. 21.

However, the coach was dissatisfied with his team’s performance, saying that, “it was not a good attacking night, period.”

NWC’s 155 swings and just 51 kills translated to a 32.9 percent kill percentage; Pohlman would like to see it at 40 percent.

Saric led the team with 16 kills and had three blocks.

Rezende had 13 kills with 16 digs for a double-double and also had four blocks.

Ashley Uffelman added eight kills and Donarski had 13 digs. Becking provided 27 assists in three sets.

None of the stats will count toward the season total because it was a scrimmage game.

The team averaged almost six hitting errors per set; Pohlman said he wants to see no more than five.

The coach said the Lady Trappers appeared passive in the game, saying their season-long challenge will be pushing back when another team challenges them.

“If we have this mentality that it’s OK for people to run over us, like that’s what’s gonna happen,” he said. “We definitely have to find our aggression while being smart.”

Pohlman also said there was too much diving from his squad, indicating that the Lady Trappers were in bad positions.

“We’ve been harping on the freshmen to get with the program and commitment to our program,” but after the scrimmage, Pohlman said he was pretty disappointed in the sophomores. He cited missed serves, dives, and blocking and hitting errors at inopportune times.

Pohlman wants the players to play with high-focused positive energy.

“They really need to settle in and say we are going to work for this,” said Pohlman, who also stated that the team as a whole needs to step up.

“We are not going to be the most talented team this year, so we better be something else,” Pohlman said. “We can control hard working, we can control attitude, we can control teamwork, we can control how loud we are. We cannot control that we’re not the most talented team.”

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