The difference between the Prince of Peace Irish volleyball team in 2017 and the one in 2018 is night and day.
Actually, the difference is 10 wins so far.
Although the roster changed a minuscule amount (they graduated just one senior from 2017), the Irish went from not winning a game to have a winning record in just one season. With games left to be played, they're currently sitting at 10-8.
That's in thanks to a large group of sophomore who have been playing together for years. That doesn't mean it's been an easy journey. The team had no problem winning in middle school and travel leagues, and it was eye opening when they jumped to a varsity level as freshman last year.
"It was a lot different," sophomore Isabel Hansen said. "We were so used to winning and it showed us that we weren't the best but we should keep trying to be the best."
I mean, they have an athletically gifted class. The W wasn't going to come as easy for them anymore in the Tri-Rivers Conference as varsity players.
"You know, after middle school we were feeling pretty good," sophomore Anabel Blount said "We heard that we could compete really well with a lot of teams in our conference going on freshman year. When we didn't compete well it made us want to work harder. Our practices we were always thinking that we could win, but then we realized that we had to actually work for success."
That kind of changed the core approach for the Irish. They started focusing on that work ethic over the summer.
"I think a lot over the summer we worked on pushing ourselves and doing every drill 100 percent so we can get better," Hansen said.
"Our practices are a lot harder and we've been a lot more positive," Blount said. " Last year, if we were down we couldn't get back up. No one was there to be the positive light, but a lot of people on our team have come together this year and that's how we stay up."
That's been a challenge for the young team. With so many sophomores and freshman on the varsity roster, there haven't been a set number of upperclassman to take charge.
"I think we all try to be leaders on the court," Hansen said. Hansen serves as the setter for the Irish team. "I don't know if that always shows to everyone but we try to be positive and encourage each other to do the best things we can do."
The stats aren't lying, either. Remember, Prince of Peace has played five less games than last year at this point in time. Still, they have 75 more kills as a team, and have improved thie kill efficiency from -.015 to .085. Their serves efficiency has gone up, too, with less going in the net.
Defense might be their biggest improvement. They have over 100 more digs already, averaging five more digs per set. That gives them their chances on offense.
Blount and Hansen are the leaders there. Hansen with the assists and Blount putting them away.
"I'd rather get the assists than the kills because it makes me feel good that I'm helping people get recognized," Hansen said.
Blount is her favorite target, notching 127 kills so far this season, with both athletes talking about a connection between setter and hitter.
"It's gotten so much better through the last few years," Blount said. "We've always been there to help each other and we've connected so well. She's one of my best friends."
With senior Emma Kuehl's positive leadership, a new aspect to the game in freshman Lilly Isenhour, the Tri-Rivers Conference block leader, and then the sophomore group of Paige Kuehl, Grade Dehner, Mary Schnier, Hansen and Blount, it's a whole new look to the IRish.
"We're actually winning," Blount said. "I think we're a lot more connected this year than last year. Lilly Isenhour helps us out a lot and I feel like she's kind of brought the team together. I feel like we've all grown closer as a team and we've become better friends."
It's really that ability to bounce back that's helping. The team had a poor home game against Lisbon last Tuesday, but then turned around to beat Marquette Catholic in five. That's helping them stay over the .500 mark this year.
"Last year it was hard to lose all of our games, so we would get down on each other," Hansen said. "This year has been a lot more positive and we've been winning, so that helps. I think it makes us all a lot more positive to each other. Because we have a winning record, we want to keep winning so we keep pushing each other to be our best."