The players were stone-faced, dazed and numb, some even felt sick to their stomachs as they painfully watched their rivals across the volleyball net jumping up and down and screaming with joy as delirious fans mobbed them.
That was supposed to be our team celebrating, they thought. We had beaten this team twice during the regular season and won the Channel League title.
But in the match for the CIF 1-A championship, before a packed house at UCSB’s Rob Gym, the Dos Pueblos girls volleyball team fell short. Santa Barbara outplayed the Chargers that day and celebrated a great three-game victory.
As much as they’d like to forget, the memory of that match is seared into the minds of the returning DP players as they enter the new season.
“It hurt really bad,” outside hitter Sally Yingst, one of nine seniors on the this year’s team, said. “I just want to forget about it and move on. We knew what we did wrong and now we know what to do right. It’s like a little voice in the back of your head: ‘We’ve got this.’ ’’
Yingst is part of a core group of seniors who make DP a strong contender to win CIF. The team returns starters hitters Carly and Samantha Wopat, and setters Sammie Brown and Paige Crane.
Yingst and the four starers who were on the court that day all agree the heartbreaking loss in 2008 is motivating them to be a better team this year. But, they add, they won’t let it be a beast of burden.
“I don’t think last year has anything to do with this year,” Yingst stressed. “It’s a totally different chemistry.”
Brown agreed. “(Last year is) definitely motivation, but it’s also last season and a different team. We’re not going to base things on how last season went. We’re trying to look forward and take one game at a time and not look too far into the future.”
Said Crane, “It was pretty painful. It’s hard to lose to a team that you beat twice, but it’s all in the spirit of competition. Santa Barbara played well in that game and we didn’t show up. We’re obviously using that as a motivation … it’s a big motivation for us. We hope to come back from that and win next time.”
“We definitely use it as motivation because there’s only one team that doesn’t lose at the end,” said the 6-2 Wopat, who has committed to Stanford along with her twin sister. “Santa Barbara is a good team and I look forward to playing them again.”
Santa Barbara will again challenge the Chargers in Channel League and CIF. The Dons have Katherine Keller, arguably the best defensive player in the CIF, outside hitter Emily Rottman and middle Eve Ettinger back from last year’s championship team.
While it was disappointing, Carly Wopat chalks up the loss to the Dons as a learning experience. “We look at what we can improve on — mainly our focus and how we come into the game. We set goals for this season: one is to make it to the CIF championship and hopefully win.”
Said Sam Wopat, “Losing in the CIF Finals makes us want to win it this year. I feel like this team has the potential to go far.”
Todd Garrett inherits this team with tremendous talent, experience and potential. Garrett has been in the DP volleyball program for about eight years as a coach at the JV and frosh-soph levels. He replaced Dwayne Hauschild, who was dismissed after last season.
Garrett says he doesn’t feel any pressure coaching a team that is ranked No. 7 in the nation by MaxPreps and is among the best in the state.
“Coaching is coaching and kids are kids, to be honest with you,” he said. “I coached a girls under-15 club team with Greg Gibbons and we took third at the Junior Olympics. That was a great experience. Coaching those kids is no different that coaching these girls (at DP).
“We’ve set our own goals and expectations and that’s what we’re going to focus on and stick together as a team and support each other that way,” he added. “These girls are great volleyball players and great kids.”
He said the team doesn’t bring up what happened last year. “We’re just taking it one game at a time, one practice at a time and we’re looking forward.”
The players say the transition in coaches has been smooth.
“He’s easy to get a long with … he’s a very good coach, too,” Carly Wopat said. “I’m sure some of us miss Dwayne, but Todd is doing a great job and it should be a good season.”
“It’s been a good transition, said Crane. Todd is great for this team.”
Now it’s up to the Chargers to not look back and get the job done on the court.
“We have a lot of expectations for the year,” said Crane. “One is to win Channel League — that’s really important to us — and also win CIF. We really hope to go through CIF and win it this year.”