PAULDING -- No matter what sport it is, being the team that perennially ends up on the short end of the stick is not easy to swallow and breaking free of that rut is usually easier said than done. But Paulding volleyball seems to have found an answer, or at least are heading in the right direction behind second-year head coach Todd Harmon and a trio of seniors he aptly nicknamed "The Big Three."
Mesa Pracht, Kristen Beck and Jessica Farr have led the Panthers (15-7, 6-3 NWC) to their second straight winning season, a feat that hasn't been seen in Paulding for a long time.
"Prior to these girls, this season and last season, Paulding hasn't had a positive record in decades," explained Harmon. "They have a positive attitude and they do it by example. When you get your star players to work at a high level everyone else starts to say 'wow I better start working harder too.'"
In 2010 the Panthers compiled a 15-7 record but before that their last winning season was 1997 when they were 20-2 while garnering NWC and sectional championships.
In Harmon's mind, there is no clear answer to how you turn an underdog into a winner.
"I'm looking for answers to that because we could use it in a lot of our programs," he said. "It's all about attitude. You could apply this to any sport, it's not a mood, it's an attitude. You have to choose the attitude you take with you on the court. If you want to sit there and believe that you're a loser, you'll find a way to make that happen."
As the captain, Pracht believes the answer could be as simple as team chemistry.
"We got to know each other better because a lot of us had not played together," she stated. "I think I will remember how well we bonded as a team. We enjoy being together even though we aren't from the same social circles, but we can walk on the court and bond well."
Staying after practice to work on things that need fixed is a key in Beck's mind.
"Our work ethic has changed, when we were freshman none of the girls would stay after (practice) and work on things but now we stay after a lot," she said. "I definitely want to come back and watch them someday. I feel like we have changed the culture and they know how it feels to win."
The trio's passion on the court was an inspiration to their coach, thus the fitting moniker.
"Because of their athleticism, they made themselves stand out," he said. "Being a big Celtics fan, the 'Big Three' just seemed to fit the first year I saw them. They just seemed to gel, they never let differences separate them during tough times and the other players fed off that."
Each of the girls brings a unique aspect to the team according to Harmon.
"Jessica has been a defensive monster, she excels and take pride in that," he said. She also does well on offense, she leads the team in kills, but she set a goal in her head that she wanted to have 200 blocks this year. Kristen is an offensive specialist and she likes to run plays. She is very mobile and that's helped because I can switch her from the outside to the middle. Mesa brings lots of leader characteristics and positive attitude. She doesn't let stuff on the court affect her. She has been the glue that has held all of them together."
There's no doubt that Paulding volleyball is changing for the better in Farr's eyes.
"It's definitely happening, because we went from a 11-15 record to more like a 15-7 record," she said. "Our freshman year we won something like four games and last year we won 15. Everybody has put a bunch of extra work into it. I think our skill level has gotten a lot higher and our dedication has improved."
Just the mindset of being a winner can do a lot to change dynamic of a whole program.
"I'm going to remember the difference it felt between what it was like to not win and then to be a winner," added Farr. "Having a winning season is awesome."
Hard work is also a large part of the reason that Beck believes that her team has transformed from loser to winner.
"I'll know how hard we worked to get that winning record last year and how it felt to change that," she said. "We worked really hard to make sure the team really bonded by pushing everyone this year, even ourselves. Now that's paying off."
The inevitable departure of the trio and two fellow seniors, Katie Kohart and Haylie Forrer will leave a definite hole in the program. But the question remains, has the program been changed enough that it will rebound from the losses?
"I think they have set the tone to go up but just like any school that's small when you lose five seniors last year and five more this year, you're going to be in a rebuilding mode," stated Harmon. "For them to set the precedent of what a good practice looks like is very important for the young ones to see. I will remember the way they always did their jobs and they did it well or at least strived to do it better."
Farr leads the team 235 kills, 113 blocks while Beck has ammassed 214 kills, 36 aces, 55 digs and 68 blocks. As the setter, Pracht has 408 assists, 68 kills, 78 digs and 10 blocks.
Now the torch must be passed and a new group of leaders must rise up to build on the foundation that was laid by those departing.
"I feel like we have helped teach the younger girls a lot," concluded Pracht. "Now it will be up to them to carry it on. They can do whatever they feel is right when we're gone but I'm glad to know that we helped get them to this point."