While members of the Western Hills volleyball team headed to the locker room after their 3-2 (27-29, 26-24, 25-23, 19-25, 15-13) win over Shelby County on Tuesday night at Lapsley Cardwell Gymnasium, Kristi Buffenmyer reached into her shorts’ pocket.
Slowly and delicately, the head coach unfolded a piece of notebook paper with words written on it in the soft print of a No. 2 pencil. Its headline simply read, “Dear Team,” which addressed a beaten-down Lady Wolverine team (6-12) coming off a four-game losing streak.
Buffenmyer said it was the letter, written to and from her WHHS athletes, that made the difference between a win or loss.
'WE WILL STRIVE TO WORK HARDER, BE BETTER'
Last Tuesday, the Lady Wolverines played at Lexington Christian. Losing in three sets with scores of 25-18, 25-9, 25-11, Buffenmyer said “it did not go well.”
The coach met with her team in the locker room the next day for practice to talk about the game, and then carried the discussion into the classroom as well.
“We talked for an hour and a half,” Buffenmyer said. “We didn’t even touch a ball.”
The Lady Wolverines talked about working harder and being better, whether that meant better volleyball players or people in general. Buffenmyer gave the team words to define such as, “parent, which is a protector or guardian, carpe diem, team, individual, player, coach, demise,” and put those into a letter addressed to the team — A letter written and signed by the entire team.
In WHHS’ next game, it lost to Owen 3-1 Thursday night. The loss rounded out a four-game losing streak, before the Lady Wolverines were to face Shelby County, a team they hadn’t been able to beat in four years.
“We went up to Owen County and had some really tough games,” Buffenmyer said. “The kids never gave up.”
'WE WILL PLAY WITH HEART AND NOT ACCEPT LOSING'
The first set against Shelby County on Tuesday saw 13 ties, before the Lady Rockets were able to pull away and win 29-27.
Buffenmyer said WHHS could have easily accepted defeat. Instead they remembered a line from the team letter, which read “We will play with heart and not accept losing.”
In the second set, the Lady Wolverines answered back with powerful blocking by senior Nenna Eneje. WHHS tied the game 1-1 with the 26-24 set win.
And as if the first set didn’t exist, WHHS grabbed the third as well winning 25-23.
“This was a back and forth battle,” Buffenmyer said.
'WE WILL TRUST EACH OTHER'
But in the fourth set, it looked as if the Lady Rockets (4-5) regained their own composure. WHHS was forced into a nine-point deficit and couldn’t get rolling. Shelby County continued on its way to win 25-19, tying the match 2-2.
“They came back and then they got let down again,” Buffenmyer said. “I could tell by their faces, oh we’re in trouble. They started getting the long face.”
But Buffenmyer said she noticed something on the floor. She said the girls were starting to “really move together and talk to each other.”
“They were trusting each other on the court,” Buffenmyer said. “When you have that going on, it makes a huge difference.”
'LOSING IS NOT AN OPTION'
Before the start of the final set, Buffenmyer pulled out the same piece of paper from her pocket and had the Lady Wolverines read their personalized letter again.
Both teams traded the lead back and forth beginning at 7-7. But with the game tied at 13 all, Brooklyn Etherington hit two consecutive kills for the 15-13 set victory and the match 3-2.
“I really didn’t know if we could pull out of the fifth game or not,” Buffenmyer said. “But they did. They came together. I made them read (the letter) before we started the fifth game. I think they remembered, ‘We said we were going to do this, we said we were going to do that.’ I had it with me in my pocket.
“They pulled together and said, ‘Enough is enough.’”
'WE WILL MAKE THIS SEASON A MEMORABLE ONE'
The last line of the team letter reads, “We will make this season a memorable one.” Tuesday’s night win helped make it so for Buffenmyer.
When asked if she would’ve taken the straight-forward three set win over the spiked blood pressure, Buffenmyer said absolutely not.
“They came out here after a holiday weekend and after five games, they battled,” Buffenmyer said. “Even if we had lost that, I will take this over anything else any day.”
Here is the letter:
We want to win, so we will strive to work harder and be better. We will play with heart and not accept losing. We will trust each other and have each other’s back. We will be at practice EVERY DAY and work hard to be better to win and be at practice with a good attitude. Losing is not an option. We will make this season a memorable one.