Editors note:Sheila Bancroft knows volleyball through and through. She understands not every team can win a state championship.
And she knows even those teams that have what it takes to get there might not make it.
The look in her eyes and somewhat calculated answers to question tell us this team has a shot. But, obviously, they need to play their best volleyball to make it happen.
The first set may have been a bit of 'tossed salad and scrambled eggs' for the Maplewood girls volleyball team, but by the end of the night they listened to their coach and beat Frazier High School in four sets.
The 19-2 third seed out of District 7 came out swinging hard in the opening round of the state playoffs Tuesday night against the home standing Tigers.
"I watched them warm up , I knew they are athletic and they are going to pound the ball," said Maplewood's five-time state champion coach Sheila Bancroft.
And in the first set the Commodores proved Bancroft right with hard serving that made passing the ball difficult, which made setting difficult, which made hitting nearly impossible.
Still the Tigers kept in the fight and down 24-18, they battled back to tie and even go up 25-24 before succumbing 28-26 and dropping the first set.
"I told them we needed momentum," Bancroft said. "We're not going to out power them."
Though they didn't finish off the incredible comeback in the first set, those last few points established their momentum that they carried into the rest of the match which they won rather convincingly , winning the last three sets 25-17, 25-15 and 25-10 to finish off the visitors.
"We need to not make the errors and... let the fundamentals of the game take over," Bancroft said. "I say it over and over again - serving and passing, serving and passing... we have to eliminate the errors and put the ball in play."
Bancroft's teams are well coached and they are seldom out of position which allows them to keep balls in play longer.
"We knew they were a very good blocking team, so we put a couple drills in for that reason." As a result they were able to pick up a couple points through adjustments on defense to keep balls in play. "(The girls) trust each other and they came through."
Bancroft said serving is a big deal for this team. Last year's state championship run relied on the big three up front creating a power offense that they don't have this year. "We're not huge at the net, so we have to score points from back at that line. They can't be afraid to be aggressive and take chances."
Bancroft owned that she held back in the first set and that was the difference.
Senior hitter Elizabeth Hunter had a big game with a .342 kill percentage with her 16 dominating spikes.
Bancroft understands the importance of her senior's leadership. "We have to be able to put the ball in her hands," she said. Bancroft talks to her players about seeing the court and the people in front of them, "You have a big block in front of you," she tells Hunter, "you can't lay back and not swing...you have to cut it a little more and not swing straight on."
Bancroft also praised setter Maggie Means for really making some sets from nothing early on and then controlling the flow of the game in the last three sets by putting the ball where it needed to be which included three kills of her own.
Maplewood moves on to the quarterfinals against Bishop Canevin, the District 7 second seed at 11 a.m. Saturday at Slippery
Bancroft, after last season's state championship and losing so many key players says she is just excited to be back in this position.
"In junior high we didn't know if Elizabeth Hunter was going to be a volleyball player, but here we are and she is carrying the team on her back," Bancroft said. "It's real now and they just have to believe in that."
Bancroft said this years team is well balanced. "Last year... you'd see our (plays) went to out our three seniors. This year that's not the case, all of (the girls) have to handle the ball."
And that seems to be the key if Maplewood wants to repeat. "We have to be able to pass and have an efficient offense."
District 10 rival (and friends) Cochranton lost to Serra Catholic in four sets eliminating the hope of an all D10 semi-final. "I would've loved to have seen (a Cochranton v. Maplewood semi-final) and seen District 10 represented like that.
That would've been phenomenal," Bancroft said though she admitted meeting Cochranton again could be a huge roadblock.
"You know the old saying, hard to beat a good team three times. If they got beat by Serra Catholic, that means Serra Catholic is a pretty good team."
Maplewood's trophy case is full of volleyball trophies and this year's district 10 trophy hasn't made it in yet because there literally is no room for it. "That's a good problem to have," said Bancroft.
Below are some more photos from the match
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