MATTHEWS – The Butler volleyball team opened the season with a 3-0 win over Olympic, but the Bulldogs have encountered a tough schedule, dropping five in a row and four of their past five games without winning a set.
It looks bad, but better times are on the way. At times, it feels like you can literally see it coming.
Take Butler’s home match with regional power Providence on Aug. 29 for example.
The Bulldogs didn’t win a set, losing all three by scores of 25-11. The Panthers are more talented and dominated for the most part, but there were glimpses where loose balls were turned into spectacular saves and big-hit putaways sparked mini-runs.
There were other times, though, where the ball would drop in between players, sets would be ineffective and too many unforced errors plagued the Bulldogs and crushed any momentum.
But for second-year coach Sarah Robertson, it’s a work in progress for a team that starts two sophomores and lost five heavily counted on starters from last season.
“I saw effort tonight and I cannot ask for more than that, especially against a very tough opponent like we faced,” she said after the Providence loss. “We’re starting to click and come together as a result of working together every day. They are so young, and they’re very coachable. They’re making changes to their games and are starting to see it transition into a game-type situation.”
Butler has just nine players on the roster, but Robertson said that’s fine with her. She looks to shape the Bulldogs back into a team that finished 9-5 and third in the Southwestern 4A a year ago.
This team is potentially taking a similar track to last year when the Bulldogs started 0-3, but rallied to win six of their first seven conference games.
“Our schedule is tough and we are packed with some of the powerhouse teams in the region and in the area and especially early,” Robertson said. “When it comes to conference phase, we should very much be prepared for the teams that are still in the developing stages like us. We need to handle the teams that are supposed to be a win for us and make sure they’re a win on our score sheet.”
But, Robertson knows, to keep improving and winning when it matters is a process, and one the Bulldogs are improving every day.
“One thing I’ve been promoting the past couple of games is working on consistency and our skills,” Robertson said. “Being consistent is our goal for the season, but consistency, communication and commitment to winning have been our three things we’ve been talking about. Commitment to winning is things like not letting the ball drop. It means busting your butt to get to the corner to get that ball in the air. We’ve been trying to get those three things into one or at least make it very hard for them to put the ball down, and we’re getting there.”
With stars Rebecca Ryan, Amanda Salas and Annabeth Teifer all playing well, Butler broke their five-game slide with a 3-0 shutout over Rocky River to earn their first conference win, a welcome sight for Robertson and her young team.
“I’m really proud of the maturity of this squad,” she said. “We’re young and we’re learning, but doing it together. I have two sophomores starting … and our team is supporting that youth and are on board with what we’re doing.”