During the course of a long season, any team is bound to have a game in which they are just not themselves. Late in the season, factors such mental and physical fatique, injuries, etc., begin to take their toll. Good teams find a way to overcome these factors. They know how important each game is and they know the consequences of losing games that they should win. Last evening, the Lady Tigers played well in spurts, but did not have the consistency that they or their coach would have liked to have seen. With a little more than a week to go in the regular season, it is the time of year when the Lady Tigers have to dig deep and maintain their focus.
Charleston (14-2, 9-2) swept West Fork in three sets Tuesday night at Charleston gymnasium. The win completed a regular season sweep of West Fork. They accomplished what they needed to do. West Fork played hard and with pride, and forced Charleston to reach down deep to win three competitive sets. The win came 24 hours after an emotional and tough match against Lavaca on Monday. It was obvious that the energy expended against Lavaca affected the Lady Tigers Tuesday night. The positive side of this is the fact that Charleston was able to win an important conference match and maintain its hold on second place in the conference. The Lady Tigers now have Wednesday to correct some mistakes in practice and rest before they travel to Waldron for a critical match with the Lady Bulldogs that could have playoff seeding implications. The next two matches for Charleston will be tough road games at Waldron and at Mansfield next Tuesday. The Lady Tigers will have to have greater focus than they had against West Fork when they play their final two road matches of the regular season. Charleston defeated both Waldron and Mansfield at home this year, and both teams would love to even the score against Charleston.
So, a win is a win, is a win. Charleston did what they had to do by winning and not dropping a crucial conference match. But Lady Tigers head coach Ryan Rachuy told his beloved Lady Tigers that they have to step it up to accomplish their goals over the remaining weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. “When you play two nights in a row you’ve got to raise your level. Unfortunately, tonight for us, the first two sets for us were pretty ugly. There were a couple of times I caught our girls kind of jolted or surprised when balls were coming toward them. I called a couple of time outs and I said that if you are not expecting the ball then you are not ready to play. If you’re not ready to play, then somebody else probably needs to come in the game for you. Because we need to win; district play. We expended a lot of energy against Lavaca because they are a very good team. But also, Charleston vs. Lavaca is something special. It means something in these areas around here. Not to say that Charleston vs. West Fork does not, but it (Lavaca) is a local rivalry.”
All teams are subject to mental let downs at any point during the long course of the season. Coaches hope that they do not occur at inopportune times, such as the playoffs. This week’s schedule of three games in four days is comparable in some ways to tournament play in which a team may have to play multiple back-to-back nights. As Coach Rachuy explained, the difference at this point is that a loss now does not mean the season comes to an abrupt end as it does during tournament play. However, the mental and physical fatigue is comparable and this week and next is a good opportunity for Charleston to grow and develop in this area so that they are ready for the grind and intensity of district and state tournament play.
Next week is the last week of the regular season, and for the seniors on this team, it will mark the last few games of their high school playing careers. As the team came out of the dressing room on Tuesday night, Coach Rachuy was handing out questionnaires to his seniors in preparation for next week’s senior night. Rachuy loves his players, and each year, it is evident that he and his seniors hate to see their final seasons together come to a close. Rachuy shared with me some of the things he and the program does to honor and thank seniors. I will share those with you next week as we approach senior night.
For now, the next point on the Lady Tigers radar is Waldron. They have to strategically, mentally, and physically prepare for a tough road conference match that is very important to Charleston maintaining the two seed in the district tournament.
I believe last night’s match is a wake up call that can benefit the Lady Tigers for the rest of the season. If the team learned from the experience and takes the steps for the remainder of the season to be ready to play, it could benefit the Lady Tigers greatly.
We will see. I believe the seniors on this team want to go out as regular season, conference runner-ups, a chance to win a district tournament championship, and a chance to advance to the state tournament. I think that will drive them the last week of the season.