Shelley Small likes the culture change she's seen in just seven matches at the helm of the Air Academy volleyball team.
"The success they're finding in the fact that other teams are chasing us, and wanting to beat us, it's real different," said Small, a former longtime coach at the L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, Texas, in between Dallas and Fort Worth. "Some of them have never felt the feeling of having other teams wanting to knock them off."
The Kadets continued their winning ways Thursday, getting out quick against Coronado, then turning back a late rally with a 25-17, 25-23, 17-25, 25-16 road victory.
Senior middle blocker Ashley Nelson came up big in the pivotal fourth set, recording six of her seven kills. Her solo block highlighted a seven-point run as Air Academy (6-1) took a commanding 15-5 lead in the game after watching the Cougars (5-2) claw back in the third game.
"Our game plan was to establish the middle," Small said. "We haven't had everyone running on all cylinders yet, but what's cool is that we pick each other up when we need a gap filled."
Lauren Petty and Ashley Pagan led the Kadets with 13 kills apiece.
Coronado, a 4A state qualifier last year and runner-up in 2011, lost its second straight after a five-game winning streak to start the season.
The Cougars are still trying to find their identity after the graduation of five seniors from last season's team.
"We got on a roll in that third game, but then sometimes, we just lose it a bit," sophomore outside hitter Kaira Smith said. "From the girls we lost from last year, a lot of us have picked it up. I think we're going to be pretty good down the line."
Air Academy took advantage of the slightest of miscues to break open close games in the first two games. A pair of kills, sandwiched around an attack error, turned a 14-11 game into a 17-11 cushion in the first. The Kadets won the last two points of the second game to break a 23-all tie, then in the fourth, took seven straight points to take a 10-point lead.
"We didn't have our best night," Coronado coach Don Lash said. "We have so many people that don't have that varsity experience, and it's hard to put it together. We're not there yet, but it's a learning process."