The Desert Vista boys volleyball team spent some time at a beach surfing on the program’s annual trip to California.
There were spills, face plants and wasted opportunities, but there were also those great moments when someone would catch a wave just right and go on a nice smooth ride.
The experience pretty much mirrored the season thus far as the Thunder had to essentially transition in a new lineup.
“It’s been an up and down season,” Desert Vista coach Ryan Tolman said. “We looked really good at times, but not for long enough periods. And other times it looks like a group of brand new starters.
“It’s been a learning process for all of us.”
One thing Tolman has had to adjust to is being able to go to anyone on his bench. Last year the rotation was limited to about eight players and it led to a No. 1 seed and 31 wins before losing in the semifinals.
This year, Tolman has extended his bench and it has led to different combinations on the court.
“Every single kid has played significant minutes at different times,” he said. “Sometimes the starter didn’t play well so we went to a sub and he played great. It’s been a nice change to be able to go to different guys and feel comfortable.”
The Thunder entered Thursday’s home match against Dobson 10-13 overall, but 7-5 in powering ranking matches to sit at No. 19 in the Division I rankings with the top 24 making the postseason.
Desert Vista has five more matches and closes out the season at No. 23 Mountain Pointe on May 6.
If both teams struggle it might be a playoff elimination game.
“It’s going to mean something one way or another,” Tolman said. “Whether it means moving up (in the rankings) or being knocked out it brings even more to a great rivalry. It should be a great match with a lot riding on it.”
The Thunder are in a bit of transition as the regular season nears. Top player Sam Mathers returned to his natural position of being the team’s libero, the defensive specialist.
He was very good at his position last year, but moved to outside hitter this year. Mathers did fine, but when he slipped the libero jersey back on he couldn’t have been happier.
“I am much more involved now,” Mathers said. “I did what was needed for the team, but I wanted to go back to libero. (The jersey) felt a lot better. I feel like I play differently, more confident, and carry myself different and it’s easier for me to lead.”
And the Thunder need plenty of leadership simply because there are players who are fighting for the postseason while playing their first varsity of the action.
Most of the players, like seniors Josh Case and Preston Brown, have played club and more than 20 matches this season so they are far from being new to the game, but there are some young players like Dakota Bramwell.
Bramwell gave up tennis last year, came out for volleyball and was the last player to make the roster for the junior varsity team. He didn’t get much court time in matches, but improved enough in practice to join a club team.
“He came out of nowhere,” Mathers said. “He’s played nine months of volleyball and he is starting at outside (hitter). He doesn’t know volleyball enough yet, he is still learning, but he is such a good athlete. He will be good for us in the playoffs.”
Bramwell was inserted in the lineup in the middle of March and has flourished. He brings a new element to the Thunder that will benefit them the rest of the way, but will also put him in a position to be one of their top players next season.
Before thinking about 2015 the Thunder has work to do the rest of the way this year and Tolman believes he is seeing a similar team that made a good postseason run in 2013.
They entered the postseason as a double-digit seed, knocked off Mountain Pointe in the first round, and then beat No. 3 Sahuaro in Tucson to make the Elite Eight.
“The schedule we play is preparing us for the playoffs,” said Tolman, whose squad went win less against the top teams in the Brophy Invitational. “We might come in with a record that isn’t impressive, but if someone takes us lightly they’ll find out we play hard and we don’t quit.”
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