BATAVIA – Losing the first six games isn’t the ideal way to start a season, but Batavia senior setter Priya Dave was never worried.
“I think the first six games showed a lot of our potential,” Dave said. “Then we just went back to basics in practice and just worked really hard.
“Then we just figured out a way to be effective out there and we got stronger as a team.”
The Bulldogs, whose record stood at 5-9 following Thursday’s 25-10, 25-19 home loss to Naperville North, were able to regroup thanks to the leadership of the 5-foot-10 Dave, who took over at setter after playing right side last year.
The performance of Dave, who played setter in club, has been critical as the Bulldogs have battled through a tough schedule.
“She is very important,” Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne said. “It’s very hard to set at the varsity level and it’s her first year doing it, but she’s doing a good job.
“She’s got to be a captain and lead the team. She’s got to run the floor and that’s not an easy thing to do. It sets the tone for everybody.”
Dave, who had 14 assists, four digs and a kill against Naperville North, is getting more comfortable as the season progresses.
“It’s been fun,” Dave said. “It’s been a little difficult getting into the groove of it, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.
“We’re really starting to play as a team, which is helping a lot.”
That was evident against Naperville North. The Huskies (5-3) reached a sectional final last year and are bigger and taller than the Bulldogs, who often are at a size disadvantage because they have no player taller than 5-11 freshman right side Amanda Otten.
“I think I’m doing a good job of running the offense,” Dave said. "It’s got to be quick and effective and smart. Especially since we’ve got a couple of shorter players this year, we’ve got to keep moving the ball around.”
The Bulldogs did that against the Huskies as six different players got kills. Senior middle Alexis Whelpley led the way with five kills, while senior outside Olivia Vani added four kills and Otten had three.
Vani added seven digs, one fewer than team leader Kassy Diaz. They were part of a defensive effort that stiffened in the second game, in which the Bulldogs pulled within 12-11 following an ace by Kyra Taylor.
“The second set I think they definitely came out a lot stronger,” Naperville North setter Anna Jaworski said. “We had to play a lot more defense.
“They were mixing up their shots and they definitely gave us a run for our money.”
That’s been a theme for the Bulldogs, even in defeat.
“Some of those losses were three sets and we’ve knocked off some good [teams],” Trippi-Payne said. “We beat Barrington, we knocked off a nice Glenbard South team and we beat Lake Park Tuesday night. We didn’t beat them last year.”
While the Bulldogs will never be the tallest team on the floor, they won’t beat themselves.
“This team is a very hardworking team,” Tripp-Payne said. “They’ve got a lot of character to them.
“They love the challenges. Because we’ve played such a tough schedule, we can play with Naperville North when we get the opportunity, like we did today.”
Most importantly, the Bulldogs are having fun.
“I’m excited to be leading the team,” Dave said. “I think we’re doing pretty well.
“We just have to keep focusing on the little stuff and I have to keep working on it. We’re all working hard, trying to get better, playing as hard as we can.”