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Growth in Chemistry: Lafayette, Oxford to open volleyball season with crosstown matchup

With the start of the school year this week comes the start of fall sports, and among the first to get their season underway are the Oxford and Lafayette volleyball squads. A fun start to both seasons, they play each other to open the year on Tuesday evening.

A year ago, the crosstown series was relatively one-sided. Oxford won at Lafayette 3-0 before beating the Commodores on their home turf later in the year 3-1.

It was an interesting, up-and-down year for the Chargers. In Kacie Hengler’s second season as the Oxford coach, the Chargers went 15-18-1. Yet there were stretches when they played really well. Oxford started the year losing five of their first six games before putting together a mid-season stretch where they won seven of eight. The streakiness inverted itself again late in the year, as the team lost its last five games.

Many of those consistency efforts Hengler chalked up to team chemistry – it was more mental than physical. Several of the eight seniors on the team were more looking forward to the future, rather than staying grounded in the volleyball at hand, she said. It was a less competitive team that was really out there to have fun. However, this year is different.

“This group really hates to lose and they’re going to put in whatever it takes to get there at this point,” Hengler said. “They all see the long road ahead of them and there’s a bigger commitment.”

As mentioned, the team graduated eight seniors from last year. They’re much younger now. Oxford has just four seniors, and even two eighth graders will be seeing varsity time.

Despite the youth, Hengler said she is extremely optimistic about this group of girls and the work they’ve put in together.

“They’re an extremely talented and athletic group of girls. I’m actually really excited about this season,” Hengler said. “I think they all have a ton of potential and they’re very competitive. They really have a lot of chemistry and they worked a lot together in the offseason.”

On the Lafayette side, despite going 0-2 against Oxford in 2018, they went 22-13 and made the playoffs. This year will be a little different and much younger. Lafayette returns just two starters and two role players from a year ago. Head coach Clint Jordan was blunt, saying they have no idea how the rotation will work out yet, but added that he knows he has the leadership to make it work out.

Two years ago, the Commodores went 15-13, but cited a lack of chemistry as one of the bigger reasons the team didn’t reach its potential. A year ago, winning eight more games, they relied more on that chemistry to remove some of their sillier, unforced errors. Entering 2019, the girls went to a summer team camp at LSU, a means to do just that – improve the chemistry going forward.

“We were able to play some really good volleyball teams (at LSU),” Jordan said. “Playing all those games allowed us to really understand what we need to work on moving forward. We have to eliminate unforced errors, replace free balls with back row attacks, and pass the ball at a higher level. If we can get a little better at those things every day, we will be successful.”

How far the new team has come over the summer will show on Tuesday night against the cross-town rival that swept them a year ago.

“Last year, Oxford was just flat out better than us. They served better, passed better, and didn’t error as much as we did,” Jordan said. “Our girls are always motivated for the Oxford game.  They really want to beat them every time we play. It is important for us to understand the little things matter.  If we can break the game down into small sections, and compete hard within the sections, we can be successful.”

All offseason preparation culminates on Tuesday night, when Oxford and Lafayette meet to open the season for the first time since 2016. The varsity matchup will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Oxford High School, following the conclusion of junior varsity and freshman games.