Some say, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” However, that’s not the case for the JMU volleyball team. The Dukes believe starting strong is just as important as how they finish, and it shows in their performance — JMU is 14-0 when winning the first set of its matches this season.
“In preseason, we were losing a lot of the first sets so we put a huge focus on it,” head coach Lauren Steinbrecher said. “We changed the warm up a little bit so it wasn’t as long, but it was a little bit more intensive so when they started that first set they were ready to go.”
The Dukes rely heavily on their pregame rituals to get them amped for the match. As they sing and dance around the locker room, they’re creating excitement and momentum to go out and win that first set.
“Typically we have pregame meal, we like to get that pregame Starbucks before the match,” junior middle blocker M’Kaela White said. “Then … in the locker room we do lots of dancing, lots of hyping us up, kind of mentally preparing and going over our scouting report to defeat the team at our best.”
Mental preparation is a huge component for the Dukes. Some like to clear their minds by singing and dancing, while others get in the zone to focus on the upcoming opponent.
“We like to get hype for the game, everyone has their own individual ritual,” senior outside hitter Bryn Recker said. “We’re really just trying to focus our mind, keep our heads level and just focus on what we need to do, it doesn't matter what’s on the other side of the net.”
Winning the first set of a match distinguishes the tone for the rest of the game. Although the Dukes are undefeated after winning the first set so far this season, it’s not just a focus on the first set.
“We talk about a sense of urgency and focus for every point,” Steinbrecher said. “No matter if it’s the first last, beginning or end … winning every point is important.”
A win in set one can settle them into the game and make them less complacent and more relaxed for sets two and three.
“We think coming out making a statement is really big,” Recker said. “That’s one thing we’ve been working on is starting matches strong and I think we’ve really progressed throughout the season.”
Playing with a sense of urgency is how the Dukes thrive. Whether the scoreboard is 0-0 or 24-24, JMU seems to do its best when the team’s backs are against the wall.
“After preseason we started winning the first sets, [then] we started to really focus on ending well,” Steinbrecher said. “Whether it is the end of a set or the end of a match, [this] was our focus the last two weekends and I think we got a lot better at that.”
The Dukes will look to continue starting off strong this weekend when they play at Hofstra for a match slated for Oct. 21. Match time is set for 1 p.m.
Contact Mandy Bartholomew at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more volleyball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.