At one point during the third set of its West Bay Athletic League Skyline Division girls' volleyball match with host Pinewood, Eastside College Prep coach Simo Taoufik didn't bother to leave the bench during a timeout.
Instead, co-captain Erin Gray engaged the group and sounding very much like a leader, she encouraged her teammates to keep playing playing hard.
ECP did just that, earning a 27-25, 28-26, 25-21 victory over Pinewood in the league opener for both teams Tuesday.
"There's only so much a coach can say," Taoufik said. "I like the girls to take responsibility. There's a new mindset, they're hungry and working hard."
It's an amazing turnaround for a team that practiced hard but who rarely won in the past. This year, with five seniors leading the way, Eastside suddenly developed an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude that is beginning to pay dividends.
Eastside (8-2, 1-0) may be a few years away from competing in the Foothill Division, where state champions and NorCal regional qualifiers reside, but that doesn't stop them from setting lofty goals.
"We want to go to CCS," Gray said. "That's our motto. I feel like since we're friends outside the court, we've developed a tight family bond and whatever we do is out of love for each other. We actually just want it more."
Remarkably, only two of them have played club volleyball at any level, and none of them played before arriving at Eastside College Prep as freshmen.
"This is the first year I've tried to gently push them into playing club volleyball," Taoufik said. "There's no history with that."
Taoufik has been able to harness the team's natural athleticism and has let his players take ownership of the program. They've responded and are playing together. There's a smoothness to their play normally reserved for teams who have been together for years.
"Our seniors have been playing since they were freshmen and they keep everybody together," Gray said. "We're going to play because we decided we wanted to get better."
As the scored might indicate, it was an entertaining, competitive match that ebbed and flowed. Pinewood's Madeleine Escher, Rebecca Riches and Shelby Jones, all seniors, made big plays throughout the match to keep it close.
Pinewood had a 23-20 edge in the second set but ECP fought back and tied it on a terrific block by Aleyna Parker. That's when the set really got interesting. An Escher dig resulted in a 24-23 Pinewood advantage.
Escher's kill gave Pinewood a 26-25 edge but a serving error and kills from Jade McGee and Gray pushed Eastside to the victory.
ECP threatened to run away from Pinewood in the third set. Eastside led by as many as seven points but a couple of strategic timeouts and heady play from the seniors allowed Pinewood to draw within three points at 23-20. Samantha Cue recorded a key kill during the rally.
Priory, with captain Sammie Sargent one of five seniors on the roster, also brought a wining record into its league opener against visiting The King's Academy.
Castilleja dropped a closely-contested match to visiting Crystal Springs Uplands, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21, in another Skyline Division opener.
Bella Vandenberg led the Gators with nine kills and Grace Lee added seven kills and a service ace. Lexi Stull added four kills to go with 20 digs and a pair of aces. Suzzy Wang added three aces and six digs.
Eastside College Prep plays at Castilleja Thursday at 5:45 p.m. Priory hosts Crystal Springs Uplands and Pinewood (2-5, 0-1) host The King's Academy, also at 5:45 p.m.