A coach never likes to see his or her team lose.
In the case of first-year Pymatuning Valley volleyball coach Donna Shinault, watching her squad drop their first games of the matches of the seson is something she knows will lend itself to the mental toughness that is a big component of the Lakers success this season.
PV started the season 8-0, before falling to Conneaut and Brookfield on Saturday.
The Lakers were without a few key players who were either in quarantine or busy with other sports.
Getting those players starters back is one reason the losses do not bother the coach, but the team’s mental toughness is another one.
“Ninety-percent of this game is mental,” Shinault saod. “If we can keep them mentally strong, then I know we are unstoppable.”
The Lakers are a mix of players, both young and seasoned.
Shinault knows them well from two years as JV coach under Justin Smith. She also coached club volleyball teams.
“We just moved up together,” Shinault said of her transition to varsity along with several of her players.
Mental toughness is one reason the coach knew her team could have success this season, talent on the court is another.
“We have really good servers,” the coach said. “We have a really good back row and some powerful hitters up front. We have good net coverage, we have a good all-around team.
“Our players mesh really well, and when they’re on they can be unstoppable when they keep that mental factor in check. They have a nice controlled game and they are very good.”
Four PV players have more 30 serving points so far.
Sophomore Saige Payne leads the team with 37 serving points, including a 26% ace percentage.
Mia Hall,another sophomore, is right behind her with 34 and a 23% ace percentage. Upfront, the trio of upperclassmen seniors Zoe Kacvinsky and Rachel Ostavitz and junior Bayleigh Alderman have combined for 149 kills thus far. Alderman leads the way with 53.
“Alderman has been on fire,” Shinault said. “She’s been putting them down left and right.”
Shinault said several other players have also contributed.
Kacvinsky and Ostavitz have proven tough at the net defensively, evidenced by their combined total of 77 blocks. Like other smaller schools, Shinault shares players with other sports.
Several of the Laker volleyball players play other sports, most notably team libero Leah DeMoss, who was with the PV soccer team Saturday.
Shinault understands the reality of the situation and rather than seeing it as a negative, the coach looks at it in another light.
“I think the more versatile your player is, the better they are,” she said. “I know some coaches like them to focus on one sport. I’m not that type of coach, I wasn’t that type of player. I did two sports at one time myself. I think it keeps that competitive edge up, it keeps them in shape and keeps them driven to win.”
The team’s perfect record was tarnished on Saturday, but they remain undefeated in Northeast Athletic Conference play, entering Monday’s match. Winning the league is No. 1 on the team’s priority list.
“We want the NAC big-time,” Shinault said. “We want to make our place in school history. We started to do that last year. We did not win the NAC, but we went further in the playoffs and stuff. But, my girls really want the NAC really badly.”