Mavs focused for playoffs
The light went on about a month ago in Denver.
“It was like, ‘holy cow, we’re pretty good,’ ‘’ Mesa State College volleyball coach Dave Fleming said. “We swept Regis, had a good match against Colorado Christian and then went to Metro and swept them. The kids started thinking, ‘Wait a minute, the coaching staff is right, we are pretty good.’
“To beat Regis and Metro at home 3-0, and then we came home and were real competitive with Kearney.”
Fleming knew all along that the Mavericks had the potential to be the team to beat in the RMAC West Division, it was just a matter of it all coming together.
“It does feel good when they pick us seventh (overall) and we end up second,” Fleming said Tuesday. “When that came out, I knew we were better than seventh.”
Fleming, as any coach would, used that snub by the other conference coaches to his advantage. After all, the Mavericks reached the finals of the RMAC tournament last year and were picked to barely make the tournament this season, despite having the nucleus of the team back.
That nucleus helped Mesa State put together the best conference record (16-3) in Fleming’s five years, and despite losing to Fort Lewis last week and needing five games to beat Western State, the Mavericks enter this week’s RMAC tournament as the No. 2 seed.
Mesa State (18-10) plays Adams State (14-13) at 1:30 on Thursday afternoon in Kearney, Neb.
“What we’ve told the team is, we have to be ready to be action-oriented, which is what we were not at Fort Lewis,” Fleming said.
“We were like, they’re going to fall apart and we’re going to win because we’re Mesa State. It doesn’t work that way. If we’re going to beat them, we have to be aggressive on the block and on defense and we have to serve to get them out of system. If we do that we’ll be fine, but we can’t wait for them to make a mistake or we’ll be in trouble.”
In the first two weeks of the season, the Mavericks were in trouble, starting 2-7, but Fleming kept telling them they’d be fine, they’re better than that record.
And they believed him.
They won six straight matches to start conference play, then lost a five-game heartbreaker to Colorado School of Mines. Another four straight wins followed, including those three key matches in Denver, before they lost another five-game match, this time to Nebraska-Kearney, which was No. 5 in the nation at the time and is now No. 3.
The Mavericks won another five in a row before they were tripped in Durango.
“Better then than in the RMAC tournament,” Fleming said of that bump in the road.
On that fateful trip to Denver came the emergence of middle hitter Antoinette McCormick, who has become one of the top middles in the conference and a key component in the Mavs’ success.
“It was one of those things where Tessa (Andrews) was good and Antoinette was good and all the hitters realized, ‘wait a minute, I don’t have to set the world on fire on every swing. I can just be good on this swing and we’ll have someone else who can put the ball away for us,’ ‘’ Fleming said.
“We managed our errors well in Denver and that comes from having confidence in the rest of the team.”
Having an effective attack all across the front line took some pressure off outside hitters Ali Tompkins and Gabrielle Lovato and forced other teams to try to pick an area to block.
And with their standout setter, Tara King, knowing who to set when, the Mavericks have been tough to defend.
“That’s how I feel when we’re on fire,” Fleming said. “Other teams, we have hitting priorities. You have to get this kid, you have to block that kid, but when we’re all on with this team, it’s pick your poison.”
The Mavericks would love to have the matches against Mines and Kearney back, and Fleming admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing the Lopers again this weekend, which would mean a spot in the championship match.
“We’d all love to play Kearney again, but I’m not going to let them think about that,” he said.
“Adams State is a good is a good team. I don’t care what their record or seed is. We have to prepare for them.”