Pick your slogan -- maybe the whole being more than the sum of the parts, or perhaps Together Everyone Achieves More.
In the case of this year's Skyview High School volleyball team, they all apply. It's a phenomenon coach Sheila Kupferschmid has described with the term synergy for the past two seasons.
"I tell my kids, 'Ladies, individually, we're going nowhere, but as a team, the sky is the limit,'" Kupferschmid said. "We need that synergy, where it all works together like a machine, where they're all focused and working together -- in the zone."
It's that cooperative effort that took the Panthers to the state tournament last season, and the same effort that has Skyview playing some of the best volleyball in Region III this season. Leading the way for the Panthers are seven seniors who, in three years under Kupferschmid's tutelage, have figured out how to focus individual talents toward a common goal.
"We depend on each other," said Jessika Truesdell, a defensive specialist for the Panthers. "If somebody was out, it would definitely affect our play. Everybody has a job. If somebody's missing, you can tell."
Truesdell, like just about all of her teammates, has honed her volleyball skills year-round, attending open gym sessions and working out with her brother Sarge, the football and wrestling coach at Soldotna High School.
Truesdell said she usually attends the All-American volleyball camps as a way to hone her basic skills before the season.
Truesdell is a team captain, along with Laura Tarbox and Christine Hayes, but she said this Skyview team has many leaders. Part of being a captain has been learning to understand how different members of the team interact.
"Relationships -- this team has some very different relationships," Truesdell said. "I've had to learn how to deal with different people and communicate."
Truesdell hopes her communication skills will help her in her career choice. She has a 3.3 grade point average and plans to attend Eastern Washington University and study social work.
Communication is a key in any team sport, and it's something that the Panthers have done well in clinching the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division in this week's Region III/4A tournament. Talking is what has kept the Panthers focused on the team goal, even through the toughest matches.
"Synergy is what makes the difference out there," said middle blocker Stacia Pfaffe. "We've all got different skills and talents. Synergy pulls us together as a team. Without it, it's just everybody fighting on their own."
Pfaffe is playing just her first year of varsity volleyball. While that's not particularly unusual, the impact she has made in her first season is.
"Coach told me at the end of last season, 'If you put in the work, there's no promises, but however far you're willing to go, you have the potential to go that far,'" Pfaffe said. "I put in a lot of work."
Pfaffe played with the Midnight Sun volleyball club, made it to a few open gym sessions, and went to a month-long volleyball camp in Missouri. But the majority of the work was done on her own, and it's translated into a 27-inch vertical leap and a spot in the front row for the Panthers.
Pfaffe, a Connections student, attends Skyview part-time and takes some courses at Kenai Peninsula College. When everything is added up, her grade point average is 3.86.
Pfaffe is interested in playing college volleyball, and she's planning to study art, computer assisted design, athletic training or some combination of the three.
Pfaffe has blended into the Skyview lineup seamlessly, something that's been important for team chemistry.
"We've been able to maintain relationships, and we're making them stronger," said outside hitter Angel Hollers. "If you don't get along, if you're not working together, you're not going to enjoy it. You're not going to play well, and you're not going to accomplish your goals."
Hollers said she lives up to her name on the court.
"I'm probably the talker. I feel like I'm the loud one," Hollers said. "I'm intense. I bring a lot of competitiveness to the floor, and defense. I love to throw my body on the floor."
While the players in the front row attract the most attention, getting the job done across the back has been just as important to the team's success.
"It all has to coincide," Hollers said. "If you don't get a good pass, you're not going to get a good set."
Hollers also attended the month-long volleyball camp in Missouri, and learned a lot from attending a camp put on by the tricaptains of the University of Nebraska team.
"I realized how intense and how passionate they were about what they did," Hollers said.
Hollers has been just as passionate about her activities off the court. She is president of the student body at Skyview and she carries a 3.68 grade point average.
Hollers honed her volleyball skills in the offseason with the Midnight Sun club, and while she hasn't decided on a college yet, she does want to study elementary education.
Hollers' intensity is contagious, so her teammates are all just as focused on reaching their goals.
"Knowing that the whole team is there to support you and get you where you want to go -- it's a blast," said Tarbox, a middle blocker. "We all have the same goal, and we all have the same passion for volleyball. We all love doing it. Not to mention, we're all friends, so that makes it more fun."
Tarbox keeps a busy schedule. She's working on keeping her 4.0 grade point average intact, and she's a lead attorney in Skyview's mock trial. Tarbox is a member of the National Honor Society, and in addition to playing volleyball year-round, she's a member of the Kenai Crewsers rowing club.
"I'm looking at academic scholarships, and athletic scholarships for crew," Tarbox said.
Tarbox said she'd like to study a business-related field at the University of California in Berkeley.
Tarbox said that improving her serve has made her a well-rounded player on a well-rounded team.
"I'm part of the offense as far as hitting, and part of the defense as far as blocking, or just getting a hand on the ball," Tarbox said. "This year, I've been able to vary up my serve and use it to help the team out."
Tarbox said that using each players' strengths has resulted in a tight team with very few chinks in the armor.
"We're such a well-rounded team," Tarbox said. "We each have a different role. Our weaknesses are limited because we each cover our own role."
"We complement each other so well," said defensive specialist Shari Isaak. "I'm (Laura's) other half. She plays front row, I play back, and we encourage each other, keep each other up."
Isaak has been steady in the back for the Panthers all season.
"The team depends on me for defense and for a consistent serve," Isaak said.
Isaak said she made every open gym session during the offseason, and went to the Missouri camp with Hollers and Pfaffe during the summer. Isaak plays soccer for the Panthers, and she also played club volleyball with the Midnight Sun team.
Isaak has a 4.0 grade point average, and she said she's working very hard to maintain her high academic standing.
Isaak has plans to attend Western Baptist College in Salem, Ore., next fall where she'd like to prepare for a career working with kids.
Isaak said she probably won't be playing intercollegiate sports, but after dedicating so much time to athletics through her high school career, she can't imagine giving them up altogether.
"I'll probably play intramural volleyball and soccer," Isaak said. "It's my hobby."
Part of Skyview's success has come from a reliable group of reserve players that can come in and contribute at any time.
"I do a lot of cheering form the bench," said middle blocker Brandi Aldridge. "I'm a right side player, and I do a lot of setting too."
"Brandi has an awesome attitude. She's always ready to go," Hollers said. "She always does a good job."
Attitude has been important to this year's Panthers.
"If one person's down, the whole team is down," Aldridge said. "It's weird, but if one person's up, everybody's up."
Aldridge would like to pursue a career in physical therapy.
"I like staying in shape, and I was brought up to be involved in athletics," Aldridge said.
Aldridge managed to fit in some volleyball workouts around a hunting trip to South Africa this summer with her father.
"I went to open gyms and I did everything I could in my spare time," Aldridge said.
Those spare time workouts and offseason clubs and camps have culminated in a special season for Skyview's seniors.
"I've just been working out for the past three years for my senior year, hoping it would be the best," said Hayes, an outside hitter. "So far, it has been."
Hayes started her sophomore year as a defensive specialist, but her game has improved to the point where she's effective all the way around the rotation.
"I play front row, and I also play defense," Hayes said. "Usually the hitting gets highlighted, but I love defense."
Hayes has focused on volleyball for the past three years and took her talents to Australia last summer.
"It was a great experience. We had to play international rules, so it was a little bit different," Hayes said. "It was a good experience to see the different talent from around the U.S. and in Australia."
Hayes said that playing in Australia was different than playing with the Panthers.
"Being placed on a team with people you haven't played with, you see a difference," Hayes said. "We're better as a team. We trust each other, they know when you're going to be there. It makes the game easier when you trust your teammates. We all have the same goals and desire. It makes playing an awesome experience."
Hayes maintains a 4.0 grade point average, something she says she's worked hard for, and she'd like to pursue a career in the medical field. Hayes said she's not sure where she'll go to college, but she'd like to play volleyball once she gets there.
Skyview still has some volleyball to play this season. The region tournament kicks off Thursday, and the Panthers are hoping they can reprise last year's success.
"Winners are winners long before the trophies are given out," Kupferschmid said. "They are committed. They have done the things that it is supposed to take to win ...
"You look at them, and they're short. They don't have the typical stature, but they have an intangible -- they have a lot of heart. They compete, and what they lack in size, they make up for in heart."
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