Macey Holck uttered a word Clear Lake’s volleyball team is currently lacking. So too did Xada Johnson.
Head Coach Heather Johnson admitted it too, although she isn’t a fan of the word.
What the Lions seem to struggle with is confidence within themselves this season, primarily because volleyball is not a sport of traditional power in their gymnasium.
They have had just two above .500 campaigns over the last 15 years. The last time Clear Lake qualified for the state tournament was 1998. Still, Coach Johnson refers to working on confidence as “cliché.”
“It really is just not being fearful,” she said. “It is kind of a buzzword. We just need to believe it before it happens. I’m super optimistic. I believe in this team; I believe we can get there.”
Still, the Lions have had one of their better seasons up to this point. They are on pace for a winning record with good showings at weekend tournaments and non-conference contests.
The expectations surrounding this group were lower when the season started. They’re increasing as October approaches.
“Now that we’re being a little bit more consistent than we expected, we don’t know how to handle it at times,” Xada Johnson said. “We’ve always had in our heads that Clear Lake volleyball is not our sport.
Tournaments have been the biggest improvement. Clear Lake has dropped just two games on Saturday’s among the 11 matches it has played. It has two more where the competition will be its stiffest.
At the Columbus Invite next weekend in Waterloo, the field includes Class 1A No. 2 North Tama, 1A No. 4 Don Bosco, 2A No. 9 Sumner-Fredericksburg and 4A No. 3 Mario.
The following weekend in Mason City, 3A No. 9 Osage plus Mason City and Humboldt – two teams that the Lions have fallen to – are in the field.
“Our team has a lot of good strengths that we all put together,” Holck said.
Coach Johnson isn’t one for setting goals that are too unrealistic. She keeps things simple, trying to improve Clear Lake’s win total by one each season.
It won 10 games in 2020, 11 games last year and now is one win away from 12 this season.
“Just little by little and that’s what I want,” Coach Johnson said. “You can’t change a program overnight. There are things that have happened this season that have shown me some of those successes more apparently than in seasons past.”
The Lions have grown up in several areas, but if Thursday’s North Central Conference Showdown against Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, there’s more maturing that will take place.
The Cowgirls won a nip-and-tuck opening set behind two straight kills from Lexie Lane that gave them set point and clinched the set. Clear Lake led for a good portion of the opener.
“They were just consistent with their energy and confidence,” Xada Johnson said. “Ours wavered and theirs didn’t.”
Then in the second, after an Alivia Paine ace serve, the Lions were called for being out of rotation. Coach Johnson stated they were in the wrong rotation when the set started and everyone was off by one spot.
It caused a significant stoppage and another stoppage happened later when the scoreboards were offline.
The Lions, at that point, could never completely recover.
“We struggled to bounce back, which is something we need to work on,” Xada Johnson said. “We were in a flow and then we had to stop. Once again, a problem with confidence.”
Back row communication has been a point of emphasis during practice. It struggled at times on Thursday when multiple kills from the Cowgirls were in between two players.
“I thought we competed really well in the first set and then we were unsure after that,” Coach Johnson said. “Competing is what I am looking for.”
At this point, Clear Lake’s singular focus is to win its regional opener. It rallied down 2-0 against Forest City to force a fifth set before dropping a heartbreaker.
Winning in the postseason is driving the Lions towards finishing with a record respectable enough to host a 3A regional quarterfinal. They believe they’ll be a dangerous team in mid-October.
“Just keeping our confidence up, no matter what,” Holck said. “That’s our one goal.”
Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.