CONSTANTINE — If there was any question concerning the magnitude of Constantine’s victory over Delton Kellogg Wednesday night to open the Kalamazoo Valley Association volleyball slate, Falcons coach Niki Tulley’s watery eyes drove the point home.
No one of the current roster had ever beaten the perennial league challenging Panthers, and it was a statement game for a Constantine program that believes it’s on the cusp of something special following a disappointing 2012 season.
“We’ve been at the bottom of the league,” Tulley said. “These girls have worked for this. They’ve fought for this since third grade. We finally have the mentality; we have confidence and they played their guts out.”
And they needed guts against a much bigger Delton outfit. The Falcons took the first game, 25-20, but watched a 12-6 lead in the second game evaporate and Delton rallied for a 16-15 advantage. Solid serving from senior Lexie Harrison gave Constantine some breathing room at 23-21. A kill by junior Jessica Mallo and an ace by junior Danica Lucas finished off the Panthers, 25-21. (Full team stats can be found on the Scoreboard page.)
The teams played an inconsequential third game, and the Falcons pulled away after being tied at 19-19 for a 25-20 win. It was the first time anyone on Constantine’s varsity roster had beaten Delton. As a result, the Falcons are 7-2 overall this year and off to a 1-0 start in the KVA.
“We try to focus on one point at a time,” Tulley said. “We went to team camp this summer and talked about staying in the green. What do you do to stay in your green zone to stay focused and stay upbeat? Our goal today was to talk and to always stay positive. That’s what we did.”
Tulley said Zoe Jones (junior outside hitter) has been struggling with her confidence prior to Wednesday’s match, but there’s no question she regained it by evening’s end with a team-high nine kills. As did the rest of the team, which Tulley and Jones both agree would not have reacted favorably last season when momentum shifted in the opposition’s favor.
“I’m just so proud of how close it was and how we were able to maintain our composure,” Tulley explained. “We’ve struggled with mental toughness for probably the last eight years. I knew coming in this team was different. It’s getting to the point where they know they can. This is unbelievable. This is should do it.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Jones, who also had three aces and a dig, added. “It excites me for the rest of the KVA season.”
Senior Cassie Wentela dished out 26 assists, junior outside hitter Jessica Mallo pounded seven kills and registered eight digs, and junior hitter Danica Lucas also recorded seven kills and four aces.
For more from Zoe Jones, check out our Insider video interview.