Eagles continue to ride momentum

Concordia University women's volleyball coach Dan Fisher said a couple months ago he didn't expect to have it all "figured out" this season, the first at the school for himself and his coaching staff.

Coming from the University of Hawaii where he was the associated head coach, Fisher, 35, knew he was coming to a good program with support from the administration and talent on the team, but he also knew it was a very young team. There are no seniors and only four juniors on the roster.

Two-thirds of the way through the season, Fisher seems to have a handle on things. After sweeping Westmont Saturday night, the Eagles have won a school-record 19 straight matches, are 20-1 overall, including 8-0 in the Golden State Athletic Conference, and ranked No. 3 in the national NAIA poll.

"When you win, it's always a culmination of things," Fisher said. "The main factors are we're working really hard every day in the gym, we have a true team — they really enjoy each other's company, and they've really bought into everything the coaching staff has thrown at them. It's been a very low drama year."

Concordia's only loss came in their second match of the season at the Azusa Pacific Cougar Classic, a three-set loss to Rocky Mountain College. Since then, the Eagles have beaten four top-10 schools, including the program's first-ever victory at No. 6 Fresno Pacific.

"That was good for the girls," Fisher said. "We have a young team and that's a long bus ride home when you lose. My assistant Lindsey Campbell was an All-American here and she spent all four years making that bus ride home without a win."

As big as that victory was, Fisher said the matches following that win have been equally important, showing that they could avoid a letdown. They responded with a four-set victory over The Masters and then a four-set win over No. 16 Cal State San Marcos on Thursday night.

The Eagles have gotten contributions from up and down the lineup, but they certainly would not be where they are without opposite hitter Brooke Marino, a third-team NAIA All-American last year as a sophomore.

Middle blocker Reanna Schelhass and outside hitter Fei Gao also have been key to the team's success. And outside hitter Madison Ekis, only a sophomore, has come up big as well.

"[Thursday] night [against San Marcos] she had 19 kills in 32 swings and didn't commit an error," Fisher said of Ekis. "She the hardest hitter on the team and she's been a physical player for us."

Despite the fast start, Fisher insists complacency will not be a problem. Not with more tough matches fast approaching, including GSAC matches against Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene, another match against Fresno Pacific on Oct. 29, which will be followed immediately by a nonconference match against the University of Texas-Brownville, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, on the very same day.

"That's going to be tough but it's a good way to prepare us for the national tournament," Fisher said of two matches against two top-10 teams on one day. But it is something that Fisher said his team will be ready for.

"One of the main messages we're trying to instill in them is we have to be a little bit uncomfortable in practice," Fisher said. "You have to train hard; it can't be easy. Training that way has made us really good in tight situations. Almost every game when the game's been close, we've been the team that is a little more poised."

It's a philosophy Fisher is passing on from what he's learned in his years as a player and coach.

"It's not a new idea," he said. "The guy I got that from was a national team coach and he said it's important for an athlete to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Ultimately when it's all on the line, it's whoever can handle the pressure better than the other team, and we've been able to do that. The challenge is to keep that going."

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