After Thursday's loss, Coconino Panthers volleyball head coach Serena Wallace said she knows her team has some growing to do when it comes to the mental aspect of the game.
"I am not worried about our skill, that's there," said Wallace, who is in her first year at the helm of the program. "It's all mental."
Coconino fell in some deep holes it couldn't completely climb out of in the even sets and struggled with inconsistencies in serving and swinging en route to dropping its home and region opener, 3-2, against the Lee Williams Volunteers.
The 4A Conference Panthers (1-2) committed five service errors and as many hitting errors in the deciding set that went the way of the Volunteers (4-0), 15-10. After five ties in the final set of the match between the two Grand Canyon Region teams, Lee Williams pulled away with a 4-0 run and closed the match with a 5-1 burst that included three Coconino hitting errors.
"Our hitters just need to take care of the ball," Wallace said. "And that's youth, for sure. Learning when to swing hard, when to not swing so hard."
The Panthers, who started a two-game homestand with the loss, opened strong with a 25-14 first-set victory, collecting five aces and forcing quick side-outs.
Brooke Parker dropped an ace that made it 9-6 and capped off a 4-0 run that Coconino would use to stay ahead the rest of the opening set. Mireya Cabrera's crafty first-touch push landed for a kill and put her team ahead 13-8, and teammate Megan Hicks connected on a kill at the middle of the net right before a Lee Williams block stopped the bleeding.
Service pressure kept Lee Williams off-balance in the first set. Coconino jumped out 16-9 when Kayla Jacobson managed to send an ace off the tape, and not long later, Cabrera rolled an ace off the net for a Panthers' 18-11 advantage.
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But the Volunteers rattled the Panthers in the second and fourth sets to make sure they would stay undefeated so far this season. Coconino found itself down 11-2 early in the second stanza before suffering the 25-19 loss, and the host faced an 12-2 early deficit in the fourth, which Lee Williams won 25-15.
"Lee Williams came to play, and I don't think that we did," Wallace said.
Coconino closed in on Lee Williams in the fourth stanza thanks to a 9-1 outburst. During the run, a kill from Parker made it 16-11, and Coconino made it a four-point game a few times but couldn't get over the hump.
The Panthers committed seven service errors to one ace in the second set, and despite being down by as much as 10 battled to close the gap. Lee Williams never trailed in the second, however, and went on a 8-0 surge for a comfy lead early.
Taya Fordyce and Morgan Derr teamed up for a block with their team down 16-9, and Rikenna Curtis tallied back-to-back kills to get her team within reach at 20-17, but Lee Williams kept their opponent at bay.
Maggy Popham and Kayla Jacobson had back-to-back aces each during the third set for Coconino, which regained the match lead at with a 25-22 win. Parker terminated the ball off the Lee Williams block for a tie at 20-all, but the Volunteers would force one more tie.
Coconino erased a six-point deficit in the third set and survived five ties in the game. Cabrera ended the game with a kill on set point off an assist from Parker.
Coconino hopes it can put together a full match when it hosts region opponent Prescott on Tuesday at 6 p.m.