Deer Lakes volleyball encouraged by performance in tough tests

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Sunday, September 29, 2019 | 8:59 PM


Deer Lakes girls volleyball coach Terry Gaston always tells his team if it can get 20 points in a set against an opponent, it can win.

In the first half of section play against perennial Section 5-AA rivals Freeport and Derry, the Lancers were able to get to that number, but small stretches of compounding mistakes were enough to foil their attempts.

Gaston feels if his team can clean up those miscues, it can compete with anybody. He is hopeful Deer Lakes can build momentum for the stretch run.

“I’ve been pretty happy with the way we played,” Gaston said. “We played five sets with Derry the first time, and we gave Freeport two-and-a-half good games. We had a good team effort against Freeport. I told the girls at the end of the match that they got beat by a better team (Tuesday), so all they have to do is get better, because we see them again in three weeks. They’re going to get better, and we just have to get that much better.”

The Lancers are 4-3 in section play. They lost Thursday against Derry, 3-1. Deer Lakes won the first set, but Gaston said there was a pivotal point in the fourth set where the Lancers could’ve taken the lead in the match. A serving error late opened the door for the Trojans, who won 25-23.

“We can’t let teams go on runs,” Lancers senior Renee Robson said. “We do that sometimes, where we have one bad rotation and they score five or six points and we lose our momentum. We have to keep our energy up against good teams.”

Said Mia Jarnot: “We also have to do a better job of putting the ball away when we get those opportunities.”

Robson and Jarnot lead a core of seniors that make up the nucleus of the team along with Bryson Hazelett, Desiree Herman, Maddie Madine and Alexa Sutch. Jarnot did not play in the Freeport match because of injury but returned Thursday against Derry. Juniors Chrissy Saldamarco and Cameron Smurda are also key starters.

The story of the first Freeport meeting was similar to the Derry matches. The Lancers got to 20 points in each of the first two sets but couldn’t get over the hump and lost 3-0.

“Freeport is Freeport … They don’t make mistakes,” Gaston said. “Their hitting percentage was better than ours in the first meeting, and they’re a good serving team. We’re a good serving team too, but they were better that night.”

Though they didn’t get the result they desired, the close first two sets have the Lancers encouraged for the rematch Oct. 17 at Freeport.

“Even though we lost, I think that’s the best and closest that we’ve ever played against them, so it gave us some momentum in to the next meeting,” Robson said. “We’re really excited to go up there and play them again.”

Deer Lakes has had some positives outside of section against Class AAA opponents. It took a set from Franklin Regional at the Plum tournament in which it was down 9-2 and roared back to win 25-18. The Lancers also had a spirited five-set match with Hampton they lost 3-2. Those results give Gaston confidence they can play with Freeport and in a road match against Burrell on Oct. 8 that he pointed to as another difficult test.

The last two-plus years have been some of the best times the program has had with playoff wins in consecutive seasons after going nearly a quarter century without one. The Lancers nearly made the semifinals, dropping a hard-fought 3-2 match against eventual runner-up Frazier.

“The entire team played very well at the end of last season, especially in those last two matches,” Gaston said. “That’s what I need to happen again. If we can get that again at the end of the year, we’ll be pretty dangerous.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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