When the Trooper bus rolled into the Coronado parking lot on Tuesday evening, most fans probably thought it would just be business as usual-- that the T-Birds would steamroll the Lady Troopers just like they had every other team through the district season. But Coach Aaron Bajek and the girls had other ideas.
Though the Coronado team came away with the first set 25-22, the atmosphere in the The Summit was different: the Troop had come take care of business, and the battle was on. Caitlan Buettner, junior outside hitter, knew her team had a chance.
"I knew after that first set that we could do it," she said. "We could beat them."
And she was right. When senior middle hitter Megan Custer drove a vicious spike through the middle of the Coronado defense to end the second set, the match was tied 1-1. She had decided days earlier that it was time to play all out.
"My dad had a talk with me," Custer said, "and he told me that I only had eight games left, and your high school career is over forever, so why not make the most of it?"
And that's what she and her team did.
Coach Bajek noticed Custer's determination, and he believed too.
"Megan has been phenomenal for us," he said. "She leads this team the best way she knows how, and her cohort next to her (Buettner), they understand each other and you see the results."
Senior setter Jacquie Zuloaga was all over the court, contributing six kills, 33 digs, 22 assists, and two service aces, setting hitters
up for kill after kill. She believed the giant could go down.
"We knew we weren't afraid to lose, and that we could take them," she said. "They had everything to lose, so we felt we had an advantage."
As the third set went on, the Troopers controlled the tempo of the match, as Coach Bajek had hoped they would.
"The girls have learned that they can dictate the pace," Bajek said, "and we let them do what comes naturally."
By the end of the set, the Troop was on top two sets to one, with another 25-22 victory. Though the T-Birds were down, they were not going to give it up easily. They stormed back in the fourth set, putting the match even with a 25-9 thrashing.
Lesser teams might have been defeated at this point mentally, but the Trooper girls would have none of that.
They battled, diving to save points, flying all over the court, but in the end, the Coronado team was too strong, and the Troopers dropped the fifth set, 15-10.
Through the match, it was a total team effort. Buettner delivered 19 kills and two aces, Custer had three blocks and eight kills. Junior middle hitter Kaleigh Thomas added six blocks, six kills, and two service aces, while junior setter Kayla Soto had 12 digs and 11 assists.
Junior Kelly Elliott (three kills, 17 digs) said that some losses are victories, however, and when the dust settled, the Troop had handed Coronado two set defeats, something no one had done all season.
"Nobody else in town had even taken one set from them," Elliott said. "It was progress for our program, and we're proud of us."
Adding a win over Americas Friday night, the team is now 6-5, alone in fourth place in district 1-6A.