KNOXVILLE — Two weeks ago, Alcoa was struggling with team chemistry issues.
An incomplete roster during preseason practices led to a group of girls that didn’t know how to play alongside each other, forcing them to learn on the fly in the early stages of the regular season.
Experience has paid dividends for the Lady Tornadoes — as evidenced by a 25-14, 25-14, 25-20 victory over district foe Fulton on Tuesday — but it’s still going to take more time to improve other areas of their game now that they have started to gel.
“The biggest difference is that we’ve just about established a rotation,” Alcoa coach Sam Thomas told The Daily Times. “I’m still trying to work some people in some different positions to try and find some people that, if injury or illness come about, can fit in, but for the most part, our set rotation has helped a little bit with our chemistry.”
That rotation flashed its potential a few times against Fulton, but it also showed how far it needs to go.
Alcoa (3-8, 2-0 District 3-AA) rattled off 15 of the last 19 points in the first set, turning a 10-10 tie into a 25-14 victory. It then cruised to another 25-14 win in the second set before letting things go off the rails a bit in the third.
The Lady Tornadoes jumped out to a 5-2 advantage, but before long the Lady Falcons possessed a 13-8 lead. Alcoa rallied and went on to secure the set, 25-20, and seal a straight-sets victory, but not without allowing a troubling trend to surface yet again.
“That’s kind of been our identity fort most of the season because we’ve dug ourselves a hole a lot this year, but somehow we fight our way back,” Thomas said. “Those holes definitely make it extremely hard to win, and we don’t want to be consistent in digging ourselves a hole to dig out of.”
A large part of the issue stems from the Lady Tornadoes being unable to squash minor momentum swings, which in turn allow teams to either get back into matches or pull away.
“If a coach calls a timeout and they get a point or two, we have to be able to break that, and we’re not consistent at doing that,” Thomas said. “We’re letting teams get a momentum swing of three or four points, and then we decide we want to start playing again.”
Junior McKinley Adkins registered a team-high five kills while senior Cori Depew led the way with 12 assists and five aces. Senior McKenzie Romer was the lone player to log double-digit digs with 13.
The Lady Tornadoes find themselves on a two-game winning streak, but there is still plenty left to be done if they want to replicate a similar ending to last season in which they reached the Region 2-AA tournament.
Limiting the amount of errors — a byproduct of a team that has yet to fully come together — is at the top of the list. The team has been tasked with setting goals for each game.
Tuesday was about posting a serve percentage of 90%, and while Alcoa fell short of that mark in each set, it did reduce its number of service errors by one in each set — the Lady Tornadoes were successful on 88 percent of their serves in third.
These are the building blocks to field a competitive team, and Alcoa is getting their step by step.
“(The goals we’ve set) have been about the number of errors we commit in a set, and for whatever reason, that’s the mental makeup of this team,” Thomas said. “We have a hard time focusing on executing plays to eliminate errors.
“We’re going to try and change our mindset … and I think setting goals and trying to establish that moving forward will help them.”