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IHS swept out of state but expects return trip

It wasn’t a total loss for the Isabella volleyball program.

Sure, the Mustangs lost Wednesday in straight sets (25-14, 25-11, 25-10) to Sand Rock in the first round of the Elite Eight state tournament, but the experience may be invaluable for a team that has only three seniors and will look to make a return trip next season.

“If we do our job and get better next season and play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be back and already have some experience,” Isabella coach Glen Graham said. “That’s the positive thing we’re taking away from it.”

The 12 Isabella underclassmen who played in Wednesday’s match now have state tournament experience, but Graham lamented the fact they weren’t able to take away from the match a more positive experience.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’m tired of using nerves or anything else as an excuse.”

Isabella (29-9) was never able to find a rhythm, as evidenced by the scarcity of statistics: Amber Wyatt had two kills and one block, Allison Mims had two kills and three digs, senior Kimi Jones had three digs and senior Marlee Hayes had two assists.

The tournament does present challenges, especially for teams not accustomed to the throng of onlookers cheering for one of four matches being played simultaneously, the barrage of whistles from neighboring courts or the temporary flooring used at the Pelham Civic Complex that is a contrast to the hardwood floors of most high school gymnasiums.

The unusual routine could be the most significant problem for teams.

Isabella made the trip on Wednesday and stayed overnight. Instead of waking up for school, the team instead went through an early morning, 20-minute practice in a separate arena from the courts used for competition.

For most matches, each team is allowed possession of the entire court for five minutes each to warm up, and then both teams serve for two minutes—the 5-5-2 format. At the Elite Eight, because of the number of matches scheduled, the format is 2-2-1.

But, as Graham said, “it’s different for everyone. We have just got to get mentally tougher.”