On Saturday morning the Gary Filbert court at Mexico High School was set up a little differently.
That's only because it had to, though, in order to accommodate the fact there were four squads taking the floor at the same time while the Lady Bulldogs volleyball program hosted a Jamboree that featured Montgomery County, Hallsville and Brookfield.
"Today was great. We saw a lot of good things that we have not seen in the past, (such as) movement on the offense (and) putting the ball in places that we asked them to put them, so a lot of improvement on that," said Mexico head coach Shayla Cox. "We struggled a bit on defense, especially at the end. We ran out of gas, got tired. At this point in the season, we're not quite conditioned to play that many sets straight in a row, but that's not an excuse. They've got to learn to push through and dig deeper."
When it comes to what the Lady Bulldogs took away from this event, it seems what the teams focus will be this week will be is conditioning, blocking and receiving. The results of the Jamboree were just as concrete as Mexico didn't fall until the Lady Wildcats swipwed the final set from them.
"(The other teams) found some defensive weaknesses we had and they picked on them. We didn't make the proper adjustments and that's what hurt us in those last couple sets," Cox said. "We won five out of the six sets, which is a good start for this program and a good start to this season, so I'm happy with that. Our starting roster is doing alright. We tried a couple things (Saturday), espcially towards the end, we played a different lineup. Just trying things out. This is the time to figure out how we can settle in."
The reason Cox and her staff don't feel pressured to set the depth chart right away is that the athletes on this team are just about all returning from a season ago. This familiarity allows for an extra level of trust, which, in turn, will hopefully bolster this team to keep improving as it has beern every season since Cox took over.
"We know the personell we have and we're going to do the best we can to create the team effort that's going to be the most productive. I really didn't see anything surprising. I've always known that they have very high capabilities," said Cox. "This team has great potential and they did very well for most of the sets until we ran out of gas. We started slowing down and weren'y getting to where we needed to. (Montgomery County) picked us apart. They played well."
For the Lady Wildcats, their efforts on the day were led by seniors Makenna Meyer and Alyssa White. Sophomore Anna Shaw also played well for her team at this event, which featured a format that included two set to 15 points against each team.
"(Saturday) was a good way to see where we are since we've been practicing for so long. It also showed us what we need to practice on and what we need to get better at," said Montgomery County coach Rachel Leu. "I think first day, first game jitters played a small part to it, but when we just loosened up and played it was really good. I was really pleased with what I saw. We have eight girls now and we use all eight, but we're versatile. Every player is versatle enough they can fill in different roles."
It's because of those low numbers that each of these Lady Wildcats has been forced to become so varied in their on-court skill sets. But, just because this squad has the physical aspects of the game well in hand doesn't mean it has the mental aspects conquered.
"Whether it's position-wise, passing, offense or defense. Everyone is able to contribute. I feel really confident in all of our skills all around," Leu said. "A couple of our losses (in the Eastern Missouri Conference) were not what we were expecting walking in that night, so we're looking to make sure that doesn't happen again this year. I didn't see a whole lot from this team I didn't expect, but when we got the jitters early on that did throw me for a loop a little bit. I should have expected that, but I didn't."
One of the things that makes competition in the EMO unique is that Louisiana just joined the league this year. But since the school doesn't have volleyball, that won't effect Leu and her team. Another thing that's particular to the EMO is that because the Clarence Cannon Conference doesn't have volleyball Centralia is part of the league for volleyball only.
"We did what we've been practicing, so I'm pleased with how today went. Really pleased. Our first game is Aug. 27 against Hermann. We're really working hard to play with them," said Leu. "We really want to compete with (Hermann) and show everybody what we can do against some of these stronger teams that we play on our schedule. We're really excited to play them."
As you can see, not only was Leu looking to use this event to prepare for conference action, but non-conference action, as well. When it comes to Montgomery County setting a depth chart, with an eight person roster everyone will get plenty of playing time.
Mexico's dynamics are somewhat different because the North Central Missouri Conference will always be the focus of its efforts. The Lady Bulldogs also have enough athletes to host an intrasquad scrimmage, which takes place at home this Thursday and admission is one pack of sports drinks.
"This will be my fourth year as a head coach and our program is built around not only volleyball IQ, but also movement, understanding and drive and love for the game," Cox said. "We've improved tremendously on that. We're in a good spot. We like the offensive system we have set up. We just have to cover those defensive holes then we should do alright."
The opposition for this event were picked for several different reasons which include tradition because Montgomery County has been a part of this event going back quite some time now. There was also the factor of legitimacy because none of these programs were pushovers.
"We like to play schools we won't wee much during the regular season. We're not scheduled to face Montgomery County during the season and we won't see Hallsville during the season. We will see Brookfield once, but the idea was to bring in teams we don't normally get to see," said Cox. "Those programs will attack us differently and defend us differently. That way we'll be ready for anything come time for the season."