FAIRFIELD >> For head coach Jonathan Mercado and the Notre Dame of Fairfield volleyball team, wins are not listed as the No. 1 priority.
“I’ve always said that wins are at our end goal,” Mercado said. “They come along with playing well and functioning well as a team.”
In his fourth year as head coach of the Lancers, the wins are finally starting to happen. And happen a lot.
The Lancers are off to a 7-0 start and have only dropped three games in that span, and are just one win away from qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 1996.
It’s a drastic improvement from previous years, including a three-win season last fall.
“It’s crazy,” said senior co-captain Mackenzie Dobbins of the progress.
Dobbins is in her fourth year on the team and has seen firsthand the struggles. And now, in her final year, is seeing all the hard work paying off.
“I think we’re all adjusted to (Mercado) and his coaching,” Dobbins said. “Everyone want to learn now.”
With an experienced lineup – a good majority returned from last year – and more dedication to the game, practices have a more central focus and the game of volleyball is being played a higher level.
“We come into the gym with a renewed focus of what we are trying to accomplish,” Mercado said. “I joked with them that this year I turned on all my coaching abilities because now they are ready for it.”
With many of the players coming from different parts of the state to attend school, chemistry has been an issue in the past. This year, however, it’s been a strength.
“We’re so much closer, we know each other and we’re comfortable playing together,” Dobbins said with a smile. “It’s a lot more fun.”
Mercado said the game has transformed from a hobby to now a sport they care about. For Dobbins, she is now looking to play at the collegiate level next year.
“She plays at a level that most girls want to be at,” Mercado said. “Mackenzie is a role model.”
Dobbins, is an outside hitter for the Lancers, but also plays libero, said she’s seen everyone on the team step up their play this fall, especially fellow co-captain, junior Livia Silva.
“She’s definitely improved so much,” Dobbins said of Silva.
Dobbins said while serving has been a highlight for the team lately, there are still parts of the game they need to improve upon.
“Just work harder to have more fluency,” she said.
But for right now, the Lancers are enjoying seeing their hard work paying off.
“We had our pasta dinner party last week, and we had a blast,” Mercado said. “One of my opening statements was, we’re meeting here not to refocus us to get more success on the court, but to celebrate the fact we have success. But not to let that define what we can become.”