A loss of 0-3 might not seem good, but when the Rancho Cotate Cougars varsity volleyball team stepped onto the court against the Santa Rosa High School Panthers Thursday, Aug. 23 for their first home game of the season, they didn’t have the highest expectations.
Of course the Cougars wanted to win. No team in any sport enters a game without hope of victory. It’s the expectations though that define what the victory might be and for the Cougars facing off against one of the strongest teams in the region, victory was showing that they could hold their own.
“In my opinion Santa Rosa is the best of all the teams within both divisions—they won their conference last year,” Cougar’s coach, Jeffrey Bradshaw, said. “I was happy with how we played today. I think we’re going to go through stretches where we have to be resilient because we’re going to struggle at times against some better competition. If we play like we did tonight, then we’re going to have a successful season.”
This is Bradshaw’s second year with the varsity volleyball program at Rancho Cotate High School. In the past, the Cougars experienced a high rate of turnover with their coaching staff and it’s only now, according to Bradshaw, that they’ve managed to gain a bit of stability. It’s upon this platform that Bradshaw hopes to build a competitive team.
“We’ve tried different rotations, we’ve tried different personnel strategies and we’ve tried different defensive schemes. So we’re still working through some of that to see how we can get our best players in the right positions to be successful,” said Bradshaw.
It’s this lack of experience and history of instability that held the Cougars back. Right from the get-go, the Panthers were far more coordinated and they stole 14 points before the Cougars could even get on the board. A diving save by Cougar, Faith O’Neil managed to take possession, but the Panther’s defense proved too stiff a wall to break through and the first match ended with a loss and a score of 13-25.
“Santa Rosa is a really powerful team with a lot of hitters. For us I think we played up to their level,” O’Neil said.
The Cougars played tight in the second match. They took an early lead and kept the Panthers within just a few points thanks to a fantastic defense. A vicious back and forth at the net culminated in a double block by Paige Cincera and Melanie Menton-Porter that took back possession in the mid game, but it wasn’t enough to seal the deal. The Panthers pulled ahead and finished it at 17-25.
The game began to fall apart in the beginning of the third match. Panthers trounced the Rancho Cougars until a scuffle at the net fell in the Cougar’s favor. Cougar’s, Cayla Nixon then stepped up to serve and with her at the helm they managed a bit of a rally, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Panther’s early lead and the match ended with a final loss at 18-25.
But the loss isn’t what’s important, according to Tiffany O’Neil, mother of Faith O’Neil. She places value on the other life experiences that her daughter gains by playing on the team.
“I think there’s so many skills that come with being and playing with the team,” Tiffany said. “You learn a lot in having to work with other people. Just seeing the things that come from her dedication is really good.”
The loss against the Panthers leaves the Cougars with a record of 0-2. Their next game will take place Sept. 4 against Healdsburg.