HRV volleyball coach Tracy Norton is looking for answers.
After an up-and-down week against both Mt. Hood Conference and nonconference opponents, she's also searching for consistency from her players.
Just when the team appeared to have hit a stride, winning third place at the Grant Invitational Sept. 8 in Portland, the girls' play suddenly became erratic.
Despite playing very well in the tournament, the team came out flat against Centennial last Thursday and lost the first game 15-0.
Then, after an apparent revival, the girls clawed their way back into the match, conceding the second game 15-9 only after battling tooth and nail.
"It's frustrating to see all the ups and downs because I know what these players are capable of," Norton said. "They know it, too, but we tend to get complacent at times."
Another example of the team's recent inconsistency was at Saturday's Hood River Invitational, a nonconference tournament that played host to 11 high schools including The Dalles, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Hermiston and others.
The Eagles stormed out of the gate, winning their first three games -- 15-9, 15-6 against Gladstone and 15-8 against Madison. They lost a close second game to Madison 16-14, but Norton said, "we didn't lose that game, we gave it away."
Continuing the up-and-down trend against Beaverton, the team played well at times, but made critical mental mistakes late in both games, losing 17-15 and 15-12.
Stephanie Halici and Lesley Betts played consistent net defense, turning away numerous Beaverton scoring chances. Meghan Flink and Kara Herman made accurate passes and sets for the outside hitters. Elizabeth Acevedo sacrificed her body on a couple occasions to keep a rally alive.
And then a serve would go into the net or out of bounds.
"We lack a mental toughness that a lot of our opponents have," Norton said. "I know my team wants to win and play well for me, but sometimes they don't play head's up volleyball.
"The mental errors have really been killing us the past few games. You can look at the X's and O's all you want, but if you're not mentally prepared, they don't mean much," she said.
Hood River did mount two late-game comebacks against Beaverton with consistent passing and inspired net defense. But early-game mistakes ultimately led to defeat. The team finished the invitational with a 3-4 record after losing to Hillsboro 15-12, 16-14 in bracket play.
It was not a note the team wanted to end on with the top-ranked team in the state coming to town.
Gresham and its roster full of six-footers invaded the HRVHS gym along with Sandy for a three-team meet Monday. Though HRV lost 15-1 and 15-0 to Gresham, the players were diving all over the court, blocking shots and communicating well.
"I was impressed by our showing against Gresham," Norton said. "Even though we knew how strong they were going in, we passed well, served well and made smart decisions at the net."
Then came another mental breakdown against Sandy -- a team much less dominating or fear inspiring.
The Eagles started game one playing like they did against Gresham, getting after loose balls and working together on every play.
Lindsey Sanguras led a rally early in the game with some powerful net play and a service ace down the line to make the score 6-3. But Sandy appeared to want it more, matching the Eagles' intensity and eventually wearing them down to win game one 15-4.
Game two again showed the team's alter ego. After getting down 14-2 and all but conceding the match to Sandy, HRV awoke from the dead and rallied for four consecutive points -- looking like the team that started the day against Gresham.
"I can live with getting beat, but not when we beat ourselves," Norton said. We know we can play with Sandy, but we seemed to give up before game two even started.
"The players seem to raise their level of play against the best, but let down against the lesser opponents. We haven't beat anyone yet so I don't believe we've earned the right to relax."
Norton told her players the exact same thing, and she hopes the postgame pep talk helps the team overcome its recent bout with Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.