by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior Jessica Finn jumps and blocks a kill attempt against Alohas Makenzie Johnson.

Sitting firmly in the driver’s seat of the Metro League race, the Jesuit volleyball team could put it on cruise control and glide to the 6A state playoffs, if it so desires.

The Crusaders haven’t lost a set in Metro, let alone dropped a match, and on Thursday, Sept. 26, the fourth-ranked team in 6A swept Aloha at home 25-7, 25-16, 25-13.

So, when you’re the heavy favorites to win another league title, but the postseason is still off in the distance, how does a team maintain interest in games that are almost foregone conclusions?

Senior Cayla Nistler says the motivation is as straightforward as meeting in the middle of the court after every point.

“We really focus on coming together in the middle and either scream or do something just to keep our energy up,” said Nistler. “I thought we did a good job of focusing on ourselves and making sure we sped up the game. We kept up the intensity pretty much the entire game.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior Jessie Price hits a ball over a Jesuit double-team in the second set of the Warriors loss.

Within striking distance

Jesuit jumped on Aloha early in the first set with Jasmine Gross, Alexa Dixon and Claire Zanon popping sets from setter Jessica Finn for kills. Grace Massey and Nistler each notched two aces and Kathryn Decker blocked two balls.

“We feed off each other’s energy,” said Jesuit junior Symone Tran. “That’s how we keep the intensity through the entire game. We focus on the disciplined things, like our own individual skills instead of worrying about the other side of the net. We always stay focused on the game and the point.”

Aloha left behind a sluggish first set and grabbed a 5-3 lead in the second following kills by Ciara Lambert and Makenzie Johnson. In the third set, the Warriors only trailed 7-6 after Johnson blocked a kill attempt by Decker.

Spurred on by another Johnson kill, and back-to-back blocks by Lambert and Ellie Parker, Aloha stayed within striking distance of Jesuit at 13-10 and even forced Crusader head coach Teresa Zimmerlee to call timeout to regroup her troops.

However, Jesuit went on a 7-1 run to regain control and a 20-11 lead. Gross flogged three more kills in the game’s waning points to complete the sweep.

“We had moments, we just didn’t keep it going and keep pushing,” said Johnson. “We did well talking and making sure we correct ourselves and stayed together as a team.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior Symone Tran goes up for a kill at the net in the third game of the Warriors sweep on Thursday.

Fill the void

With a couple of starters out either due to illness or injury Jesuit looked to its bench for energy and received it from the likes of Massey, Gross and Zanon. Up front, Gross and Zanon helped fill the void of Ariana Wiltjer, who was out with a concussion.

When the rigors of the regular season take their toll on the roster, Jesuit can simply go to the well and pick up an up-and-coming talent.

“Everyone has to step up and not only play their position but maybe step up and play a different position they haven’t played before,” said Tran. “That’s really nice to have each player be an all-around player.”

The Crusaders bring girls off the pine who could probably start at a lot of 6A schools. Nistler noted Jesuit’s depth is fostered in practice, where scrimmages and drills are treated with game-like intensity.

“Everybody’s playing, everybody’s getting touches and reps,” said Nistler. “I think that’s what really helps our team to make sure we have a deep bench.”

“We have such a deep team that literally anyone can play anywhere they need,” added Finn.

Jesuit outside hitter Elise Krippaehne said Jesuit’s serve-receive and passing stepped up and their blocking at the net didn’t skip a beat despite Wiljter’s absence.

“We’re improving each day, and I think that’s what’s been helping us with the season,” said Krippaehne.

Mental discipline

Outwardly it looks like Jesuit doesn’t have a whole lot of holes that need to be plugged. They have serving, size, depth, experience and a finger on what needs to be honed between now and the playoffs.

“Each day we’re focusing on getting a little bit better,” said Finn. “We’re not perfect, we’re not even close to perfect at any position. We just have to stay strong and keep working.”

“Really for us, it’s staying disciplined,” said Nistler. “I thought today was a good start to see our improvements. We just have to keep our energy up and keep that mental discipline. I think we can keep improving with that.”

“We have our ultimate goal, but we try to focus on the little goal before the big goal,” said Tran.

At 1-3 in the Metro League and 4-8 overall, Aloha is scrapping to keep pace with Sunset and Westview, who are both 2-2 respectively in league play.

“I love our team,” said Johnson. “I think we’re going to do a lot of good stuff. We just need to prepare for games and have a good attitude the whole time. We have to work for everything we get. We’re small, but we’re mighty, and we have a good passing team.”

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