Defense wins championships and the Osage volleyball team knows that heading into today's Class 3A state tournament match vs. Tipton inside the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
At 5-foot-3, junior libero Kourtney Chambers slides just behind the 10-foot line, picking up a tip in practice.
“Ever since I’ve played, I’ve been a libero,” Chambers said. “My favorite part is the thrill when you get up a good dig and you can get it over and smash it down. Tricky plays like that is good and it’s my job to communicate on the court.”
Chambers has played volleyball since fourth grade, her team with junior setter Rylie Olson and junior middle blocker Sydney Midlang won the AAU state championship in fifth grade.
Unlike Midlang and Olson, Chambers didn’t make varsity right away her freshman year. She had to wait her turn behind senior libero Destiny Thompson.
And she had accepted that, but Chambers would take the court sooner than expected during the regional tournament in 2015. Thompson had been bitten by a dog and she was out for the next match.
“We met as a team first and decided, do we want switch three people around or do we bring her in and just have one person?” head coach Andie Olson said. “And I’m like 'This is your team, I don’t want to throw anybody in a wack.’”
The team decided to bring Chambers on the court even though she hadn’t played one set of varsity.
“So I called her and we came had practice at 8 p.m. again just to go through serve-receive,” Coach Olson said. “And she did a great job. I was like here you go, throw her to the dogs.”
Now on her second full year as a starter, Chambers has 227 digs this season, averaging 2.61 per set. Coach Olson notes that Chambers thrives because she’s quick on her feet, so she can pick up the short, unexpected tips that escape the blocks, or defend the sharp mcrosses pounded her way.
“I’ve always believed in Kourtney more than Kourtney has believed in herself,” Coach Olson said. “I knew eventually she would find that confidence within herself and I think this year she’s believed what I’ve been telling her.”
Chambers, although confident, credits the hitters with her growth this season.
“I have very good hitters, so I don’t have to play defense as much as other teams do,” Chambers said. “My block’s good too, so that helps.”
It’s the perfect formula, but it’s only been perfected through repeated experimentation.
The Green Devils start the day with a serve-receive drill. The team must set up nine out of 15 balls served to it or it has to go through the drill again. The drill is designed to minimize error, and Coach Olson has slowly increased the number to nine throughout the season to accommodate the level of competition the Green Devils face.
Then, the team splits up for an interesting scrimmage.
Standing at middle blocker is 6-foot-2 senior quarterback Drew Olson, and he’s up against Midlang or freshman Dani Johnson on the other side of the net.
“Boys do weird things,” Coach Olson said as Drew knocked down a tip over Johnson’s fingertips.
“Like that! I want them to be prepared for some unexpected shots, so during a game I can just tell them, ‘It’s just like what Drew did in practice.’”
Last year, the school board approved boys to participate in volleyball practice. Now that football season is over, the boys get their basketball conditioning in while training the Green Devil defense.
“It’s fun. We don’t know what we’re doing at all, but it’s just fun to come play,” Drew said. “The front row sucks kind of because you just run and jump the whole time.”
Rylie thinks it’s funny, but has aided in the team’s improvement.
“He doesn’t know the rules, so he just does his own thing and he thinks everything he does is right,” Rylie said, laughing at her older brother. “But he just creates a bigger block for our hitters. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and we don’t know where the ball is going, so it’s good for our defense to be on our toes.”
Those unexpected hits and tips can send a group out-of-system, but because the Green Devils add the surprise element to practice, they’re ready for anything.
“I think this year it’s more important because we’re really good in system, but we’re good out of system,” Rylie said. “But we have to be in system to score points if we want to win by 5 or 10.”
The drills are only half of it, though. It’s the experience of playing together that creates maturity and raises the defensive IQ.
Chambers knows that first hand, reminiscing her first moment when she took the varsity floor and how much she’s grown from it.
“Volleyball is a mental game because if you make a mental mistake you know the ball is coming right back at you...” Chambers said. “They want you to make a mental mistake. So, I think that you have to move on right away, and if you don’t it’s going to keep getting served to you.”
That’s the mindset of a defense wanting to win a championship.