From Underdog to Undefeated

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By Olivia Nalder Times Correspondent
Times Correspondent

 

Bridgeport’s Lady Bobcats defy the odds

 

The Bridgeport Lady Bobcats volleyball team came home champions from the Virginia City tournament late last month, capping off what turned out to be an undefeated season. 

 

A 12-0 season record was not something this little team, with some of the youngest players in the Class B league, ever imagined. Not only were they the team with the fewest number of players in the league, they also were the only mixed team of fourth to eighth graders, in a seventh-eighth grade league.

 

 “Almost every single girl in our school was on the team,” said Coach Erinn Wells. “There was practically no one left. And they all worked so well together.”

 

In fact, only three of the team's players were seventh and eighth graders; the rest of the team was comprised of fourth, fifth and sixth graders. However, they did not let those odds get in their way. Not only did the Bobcats win every game they played, but they won all games in two sets, never needing to go to a third game tie-breaker.

 

Their coaches commented on how obvious the size difference between teams was on the court, saying how "tiny" some of their players looked when they joined the rotation. But what they may have lacked in height, they more than made up for with heart, determination and a big dose of courage, which grew as their skills improved over the season, the coaches said.

 

Wells said the younger girls, especially, were daunted and a little nerve-wracked at the beginning of the season. "But after awhile," she said, "they realized that they deserved to be there just like everyone else."

 

“We played our hearts out. That was one of our strengths,” said team captain Leslie Castellon, eighth grade.

 

According to Coach Lowry, Leslie herself was another of the team's greatest strengths.

 

“Leslie was our driving force and MVP for sure,” said Lowry. “The girls looked up to her, and she was an excellent role model and leader.

 

“This is only the third year in a long time we’ve had a team, so the older girls have gone from having no volleyball experience to being tournament champs in three short years,” she said. “And they are now paying it forward to the fourth and fifth graders, passing on skills and trying to teach them what it takes.”

 

The notable age-difference of the team members could have proven a liability, but instead helped encourage teamwork, communication and respect.

 

Wells appreciated the players’ inclusion and camaraderie. "The older girls really helped the younger girls and never made them feel intimidated. They made them feel like part of the team.” 

 

Castleton shared this attitude about playing on a team with so many different ages and skill levels. "It was kind of a challenge at first, but we worked through it,” she said. “The younger players tried their hardest, which made it all easier. It's going to be really sad to leave this team next year.”

 

In addition to solid teamwork, the Bobcats impressed with their quickly-honed skills on the court. The girls unanimously agreed that the serve was their strongest skill as a team.

 

“Even the younger girls, who maybe didn’t have as strong of serves, still consistently got it over, and we still got points,” Wells said.

 

One fourth grader, Mailine Acero, made her team proud with her consistent service, once scoring six points in one game.

 

“Mailine has a natural talent," said Lowry. "She made every serve over and did awesome when she was subbed in. We really counted on her for the tournament since our starter, Ally, couldn’t attend. She stepped up and did great.” 

 

“In our practices this year, we spent a lot of time just scrimmaging and playing and moving, and I think it really gave the younger girls that opportunity to learn what it takes to play,” Lowry said.

 

Even where there could have been weaknesses in the team, the players relied on good communication to get the job done. Lowry highlighted the second team captain, Litzy Castaneda, eighth grade, as being essential to team communication and motivation, saying she encouraged and talked her team through plays and was even motivational to the other teams.

 

 “The girls used their set-up and individual skills to their advantage each rotation and just knew what was the best play for that moment,” Lowry said.

 

Wells noticed the same thing, observing, “They really complemented each other’s skills; where one girl maybe wasn’t the greatest passer, the girls worked together to help that player and always cheered each other on. I loved that there was zero drama on our team.”

 

Both coaches, who played high school volleyball in Mono County, were very proud of how the Bobcats represented their small school throughout the season, both on and off the court. 

“We really just feel honored to help them on this little journey,” Wells said. “They put the work in; we just sort of helped guide them."

 

Lowry appreciated what the girls did with what they had.

“The Bobcats came out there and we didn't have the fanciest uniforms,” she said. “We didn’t have the fanciest cheers or the fancy warm-ups. But we went in there with class and style. We went in there, and did what we do. We had a smile on our face the entire time, and we just played.”

 

“We won on basic skills,” Wells said. “We weren’t doing any fancy plays or fancy rotations. We just used the skills, and that won.”

 

"We were simple, but we were effective," Lowry said, summing it all up perfectly.

 

 

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