Mendenhall, Barnett leading YC playoff push
Before the 2012 season began for the Yuma Catholic volleyball team, there was still much to do.
Coach Maris Grasis finalized the team. The Shamrocks did team building exercises. They made shirts. And the players, without any hand from Grasis, named their own captains.
It was decided amongst themselves that senior outside hitter Kalaina Barnett and junior setter Chelsey Mendenhall were their leaders.
“This was the first year I haven't had to say you're a captain, you're a captain. The team picked and said Kalaina, Chelsey, you're captains,” Grasis said.
“We know we're the only returning starters and we know what (Grasis) expects and what practices are like,” Barnett said.
The team's decision to label Barnett and Mendenhall as their leaders was not a surprising one. The two were the only returning starters from last year's team that lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We know what it's like to make it to state tournament and wind up a little short,” Mendenhall said.
Entering their game at 6 p.m. tonight against Antelope, the Shamrocks (12-4) are on the border of making the playoffs. The Arizona Interscholastic Association Division IV polls, which are updated this morning, have Yuma Catholic at No. 17 — with essentially the top 16 teams making the state tournament. Two of their four losses came at the hands of undefeated Parker, which is ranked No. 7 at Division IV. The other losses came at No. 8 Tempe Prep and at Lake Havasu, which is ranked No. 20 at Division II.
“It's really nerve-wrecking, knowing that we're just one away. During practice we're all on our toes because we want to get our final two wins in so we can get to at least 16,” Barnett said.
“You have to control the controllable. What we can control right now is our last two games, we can't control how the other teams do. As long as we win our games and do what you need to do, you just have to just let everything fall as it does,” Mendenhall said.
For Mendenhall, pressure is nothing new. As the setter, she determines who gets the attack — and who doesn't. She said her time as an outside hitter last year has helped her this season with the psyche of being a setter and knowing you can't please everybody all the time.
“As a setter, you have to have tough skin and you have to set whoever can get the ball on the ground. I played almost every position on the court, so I know that if I'm a hitter and I'm not putting the ball on the ground, the setter needs to set somebody else,” said Mendenhall, who balances several different factors in where to place her set. “There's so much depending on it. Is there somebody that's really hot that game? Does the other team have a big blocker and my hitter can't hit it past them? I can't put it there until that blocker is out. Then of course, the pass dictates where I go with it. And sometimes I'm off and can't set it in a certain spot. It's just a split-second decision of where I want to put it.”
It is no coincidence, Grasis believes, that the Shamrocks have an outstanding setter and an outstanding record.
“A setter is just like a quarterback on a football team,” Grasis said. “A setter can control the game and the flow of the game. It's easier to have a more successful season.”
There is a bond between Mendenhall and Barnett, setter and outside hitter. They have played together for three years now — Mendenhall as a freshman, Barnett as a sophomore. Grasis sees it, saying that when it's crunch time and the Shamrocks desperately need a point, “they don't even have to say anything to each other. They just kind of know.”
“There's a lot of trust involved,” Mendenhall said about her relationship with Barnett. “I have to trust that she's going to be there and she has to trust that I'm going to put it there and know how she likes the pass.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson