Emotion without getting emotional

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By Scott Akanewich

During the Lady Panthers’ away volleyball match against district opponents Georgetown on Oct. 13, things on the court got a bit heated as the geographic rivals battled it out in what ended up being a 3-1 (20-25, 25-19, 25-9, 25-22) Liberty Hill victory.

According to junior setter Emma Becker, familiarity certainly caused contempt in this case.

“When I was a freshman at Hutto, I played against them and I know a lot of them from club volleyball,” she said. “So, there’s some history there and I really don’t like them.”

Becker was able to channel her anger and emotions in a positive way, in leading the Lady Panthers with 13 kills on the contest, to go along with 15 assists, two blocks, three aces and 16 digs on the day.

Apparently, it doesn’t take very much to stoke Becker’s competitive fires.

“Someone might look at me wrong or something,” said Becker. “Tonight, there was all kinds of trash talk at the net. But, that’s okay because when I’m angry, I play a lot better.”

Head coach Gretchen Peterson attributed the spirited contest to the raucous environment the Eagles provided for the visitors – albeit one which was expected, she said.

“Georgetown has always been a strong Class 5A program with a lot of history,” said Peterson. “They always have a great crowd and we knew going in it was going to be tricky.”

Only adding to the conundrum was the fact the home side got out to an early lead, which riled not only the crowd up even more, but the Georgetown players, as well, creating a double whammy of anxiety for Peterson’s squad.

After the Lady Panthers had lost six of the first seven points of the match, Peterson called a timeout and had her team huddle around her on the sideline in order to deliver a distinct message to her players, she said.

“We just needed to stay in control and play with emotion without getting emotional,” said Peterson. “At that point, we could’ve gone all over the place, but the girls did a good job of getting it right.”

Peterson added the players might have been taken back a bit by the atmosphere despite being aware of what was in store in advance.

“I think at first, we were like ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ with the crowd and everything,” she said. “We just needed to calm down and focus on ourselves and what we were doing.”

Initially, the Lady Panthers were failing on a pair of fronts – one offensive and the other defensive – said Peterson.

“We weren’t making the right adjustments on our block, so we were guessing a lot where the ball was going,” she said. “Also, we weren’t moving the ball around like we needed to be doing and mentally, we weren’t tuned in. We dug ourselves a hole early on and it was really hard.”

Emma Parsons found herself in the midst of the chaos unfolding around her and said the fiery conditions made for better, more intense competition.

“Oh, yeah, there was a lot of trash talking going on – although it’s not directed at any one person – usually you just say things to your teammates the other team can hear,” said Parsons, who leads the Lady Panthers with 236 assists on the current campaign. “But, it’s really fun to play a match like that because we get challenged a lot more. Also, the more often we’re down and come back, we prove to ourselves we can do it.”

Parsons, who plays primarily on the back line, rotated up front in the third set and collected a pair of kills in the process – something she’s usually not called upon to do in her setter’s role, but one which she is completely capable of filling, said Peterson.

“Emma can jump really well – in fact, she has one of the best verticals on our team,” she said. “She can also swing very well.”

Parsons was pressed into service up front due to the need to provide breathers to outside hitter Kindsee Escamilla, who rotated to the back row briefly to help recharge the senior outside hitter’s batteries for the rest of the match, said Peterson.

“We knew it was going to be a tough, long match and we needed to keep our rotation fresh,” she said. “But, for Emma, it’s nothing new because she’s played up front before.”

So, how was it being on the other end of the supply line for once and getting to hammer home a few kills instead of providing the pass to do so?

“I wouldn’t mind being a hitter all the time,” said Parsons.

However, she knows where she benefits the team most is by being a playmaker as opposed to a finisher – something she continues to improve on.

“This is my third year setting to these girls now,” said Parsons, who debuted on the varsity as a freshman two years ago. “Back then, I was just getting to know what each hitter likes, but now I’m able to focus on who the ball is going to and how they like it.”
Explanation, please.

“For example, I know Emma (Becker) likes a higher ball and when she’s on the right side, she wants it quicker,” she said. “Where with Kindsee (Escamilla), she likes the ball delivered a bit flatter, so it gets to her faster.”

One of Parsons’ trademark moves is a no-look set behind her to a waiting hitter – something else she’s able to do now that she has developed the sixth sense of always knowing where her teammates will be.

“Usually, my hitters will yell pretty loud, so I can hear them,” she said. “But, I’ve been setting to them for so long, I know they’ll be there.”

On occasions such as the Georgetown match, having built-in radar certainly helps one deal with the wild conditions while at the same time remaining focused on the mission all the while properly controlling the emotions which can go awry if not checked.

“Sure, we get all hyped at times like that, but getting hyped isn’t a bad thing,” said Parsons. “It just makes me more excited to go after a ball and what that does is mess with your opponents’ heads.”

Peterson knows situations such as the one she and the Lady Panthers successfully dealt with against Georgetown is only par for the course in their new district this season.

“We know there aren’t going to be any gimme matches,” she said. “But, our girls stepped up and handled everything which was handed to them, which is all you can ask.”

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