Free State volleyball’s new mindset leads to resurgent victory over Olathe North
After dropping the first set to Olathe North, Free State volleyball head coach Jayme Savage knew the Firebirds needed a spark to take back momentum.
“New team, new outcome,” Savage said.
And coming out of that huddle prior to the second set, the Firebirds (No. 4 Class 6A) looked reborn into a different, more aggressive team, en route to a 2-1 (25-22, 25-15, 25-16) win over Olathe North in a triangular Tuesday night.
“Our mindset was just to win,” freshman libero Rylee Unruh said. “Every single point mattered, and we worked together as a team and fought out with (the match).”
Just before, Free State had a bit of a tuneup match against Shawnee Mission North, rolling to a 2-0 (25-14, 25-14) win in what seemed like an easygoing match for the Firebirds.
“Well the first match was a little bit slower, so we wanted to build momentum in the second set to bring into the second game because we knew the second game was going to be a little bit harder,” senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Hamilton said.
To start that second match, Olathe North came out aggressive in the first set, taking advantage of every mistake Free State made and getting to almost every loose ball. So it wasn’t necessarily a surprise the Eagles took the first set as they proved to be the better team in the first frame.
However, Savage’s speech resonated with the Firebirds, as the coach called for Free State to take the next set 25-15.
“We totally trust her, and she really brings our team together,” Unruh said of Savage.
While the point prediction may have been said tongue-in-cheek, it’s exactly what the Firebirds did.
The second set was a different story from the first frame. The Firebirds’ swings were more aggressive, communication improved and a growing confidence that got louder as the match went on with emotions rising.
After almost every point, at least one Free State player would yell in rejoice, particularly Unruh.
“When it’s tight moments, I don’t like to tense up,” Unruh said. “I like to play for the team and get excited and hype everyone up.
“And as a freshman coming in, sometimes it can be hard and I know that sometimes (the team doesn’t) always look up to me, but it’s just so much fun.”
Momentum shifted in the second set, with the Firebirds handily taking the frame 25-15 as Savage prophesied.
“And with that 25-15, she said it right on the dot and we worked for her,” Unruh said. “We worked for those points.”
The third set, while slightly more contested from Olathe North, proved to be more of the same. The score was slightly closer (25-16), but Free State was still in control.
With younger players like Unruh stepping up, Hamilton said it’s a testament to the team morale the Firebirds are building under first-year head coach Savage.
“We’ve definitely talked a lot about culture and building it and just encouraging freshmen to not be nervous and go all out,” Hamilton said.
Unruh says the younger players “just love everyone,” and that the nine seniors have made a smooth transition into a new system under Savage.
Next up, Free State takes on Blue Valley West on the road at 6 p.m. Thursday.