Now that the Modesto Junior College volleyball team has seen everyone in the Big 8 Conference, there's only one thing left for the Pirates to do:
Stop shooting themselves in the foot.
The Pirates lost to visiting Sacramento City 30-21, 30-19, 24-30, 30-24 on Wednesday while committing 24 service errors and allowing the Panthers to string together runs at key times.
Cutting down the mistakes, of course, is easier said than done. Serving is something the team works on diligently and does well in pregame warmups. Not so in the midst of action.
"It's just believing we can do it," coach Dave Winfrey said. "You control the things you can control. For us, playing strong offense is how we win. We have not played a team that can down our offense. We can, when we miss a serve, miss a pass."
The Sacramento match marked the halfway point in the Big 8 Conference. Three Big 8 teams are in the state rankings, including the No. 6 Panthers.
"It's an experience thing," Winfrey said. "We're not used to playing top-10 volleyball. It's experience in developing character."
Modesto (12-6, 3-3 Big 8) started well Wednesday, leading 16-14 in the first set before Sacramento City (13-3, 4-1) went on a five-point tear. Elizabeth Gutierrez of Modesto made the score 19-18 on an ace, but the Panthers scored five consecutive points to lead 24-18.
The last one rattled Modesto, as Sacramento was awarded a point for the Pirates being out of rotation. Winfrey argued and received a yellow card. Sacramento scored five of the last six points in the set to win.
Modesto seemed to scramble unnecessarily in the second set, failing to get a serve in eight attempts. While the Pirates had their moments, Sacramento gained steam while Modesto mostly got pounded.
"When they'd slam it straight down, you can't do much about it," said Allison Mikkelsen, who had eight kills and led Modesto with 14 digs. "In the second set, we weren't talking. We had to pick up our energy. It seemed like no one wanted to be here."
That changed as the teams traded leads through the third set. The Pirates took a 23-18 lead after two Kelsey Wingo kills and two balls the Panthers needed four hits to return. Tanya Jennings hit one of her eight kills to end the set.
Sacramento slowly pulled away in a see-saw fourth set, highlighted by two swift kills from Kendall Eayers, who finished with seven.
Modesto has a bye this weekend before starting the second half Oct. 24 at home with American River. The Pirates defeated the next three teams on their schedule the first time around.