Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Joy Northweather wasn’t sure who said it, but she knew she liked the message.
When a motivational quote was brought up at a recent faculty meeting, the Blair Oaks volleyball coach took note.
“‘It’s not the will to win but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference,’” Northweather quoted. “And that’s what I’ve been talking to the girls about every day in practice. It’s that desire that we want to keep going and that we need to maintain and stay focused and pushing and improving every day.”
A quick Google search by Northweather found the quote was from legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, not legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, as she had been told. Either way, Northweather thinks the message rings true as the Lady Falcons’ season begins today against Linn.
“That has to be our drive: the preparation,” she said. “I liked it. It makes the difference, hopefully, between being done in districts and going on.”
Winning a district championship and advancing to the Final Four has been Blair Oaks’ goal every year, Northweather said. The Lady Falcons won a district championship in 2010, her first season as head coach at Blair Oaks. Since then, three of the four teams to eliminate Blair Oaks in the district tournament went on to the Final Four.
Last year, it was Helias that ended the Lady Falcons’ season, and the Lady Crusaders went on to win the Class 3 championship.
“Sometimes it’s good to look at it and say, ‘Hey, we lost to the team that won it all,’” said Northweather, who hesitated to say it softened the blow too much.
Northweather is familiar with tough teams standing between her teams and a district championship — be it Helias, Fatima, which won a Class 2 state title in 2012 after eliminating the Lady Falcons, or traditional power Hermann. Given her competitive nature, however, Northweather said she likes it that way.
In last year’s district championship, the Lady Falcons played a tough 25-21 second set with the Lady Crusaders, who didn’t lose a match all year.
“All of us, a day later, would have liked a chance to try it again,” Northweather said. “We like the competition. We want to be pushed.”
The Lady Falcons return plenty of experience.
“We only lost two players since last year,” Northweather said. “So our confidence level is high. You kind of almost feel like you’re just picking up where you left off, and that’s a good feeling. The girls are comfortable. They’ve played with each other a long time. Varsity-wise, the majority of the people that are in a varsity uniform this year picked up their uniform from last year.”
That experience should come in handy on the offensive side of the ball, where the Lady Falcons try to use a fast-paced attack.
“There’s so much timing involved,” Northweather said. “One of the most difficult things in volleyball, I think, is timing on attacks, and in a faster-paced offense, because everything is quicker, it’s very, very important to have that connection and have the consistency.”
Among the most experienced are seniors Taylor Stockman and Madison Abbott, who have started each of the last two seasons for the Lady Falcons.
Also beginning their third year as starters are juniors Allison Maxwell, Sadie Turner and Paige Rackers.
Rackers missed more than a month of last season with a meniscus injury in her left knee. She had surgery again in the offseason, and Northweather said she might be able to return in a couple weeks.
Stockman is recovering from a hamstring injury, and has been recovering steadily.
Northweather does not expect either to play today against Linn.