For freshmen Nicole Murphy and Julie Teeple, their first collegiate match didn't begin as they had imagined.
The Columbia College volleyball team dropped the first match of the Best Western Classic on Friday to Georgetown College 3-2, and it could have gone downhill from there. But after winning the following matches against Missouri Baptist University, Bellevue University, and Lindenwood University, the Cougars won the tournament and learned some valuable lessons.
"From then to our last game, we've improved 100 percent," Teeple said. "We talk more, and we're starting to get to know each other a lot better."
Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington anticipated growing pains in the opening games. Teeple, Murphy and three other key players for the Cougars are transfer students, and the majority of the starters speak Portuguese.
"I've been pretty hard on them," Washington said. "I'll tell them something once, then they're getting yelled at. I'm a very competitive person, and I think the more you expect out of somebody, the better they'll perform."
Murphy and Teeple knew when they came to Columbia they were in for a new experience, saying the pace of the game and level of competition was greater. After four matches, they say they feel more confident about themselves and the team.
"I think the freshman grew smarter, and we made less errors over the weekend," Murphy said. "The first game, there were a lot of freshman errors, but we've progressed a lot."
"We've made the mistakes enough to know not to make them now," she said.
Teeple made a dramatic change to her game just days before the opening match. After watching her serve, Cougars assistant coach Brian Schneier concluded the Teeple should try jump serving, something she had never done before.
"Julie had never jump-served, and her first one was bad," Washington said. "But our coach worked with her, and now she has a very strong serve."
Teeple said she has improved it a lot since her first attempt.
"It didn't even make it over the net, it just went straight into the ground," she said, laughing.
Teeple is from Versailles, where she played both volleyball and basketball for four years at Morgan County High School. She was a three-time conference player of the year in volleyball and an all-state selection in both sports. While she had several colleges looking at her, she chose Columbia College.
"I heard good things about the coach, and you know the team's competitive, three-time national champions," Teeple said. "I knew I wanted to play on a very competitive team, and I made the right choice."
Murphy was a two-time Class 4 all-region team selection for Helias High School in Jefferson City. As a junior, she received Class 4 all-district honors and ran track in 2007 and 2008. For seven years, she was a member of the Central Missouri Volleyball Club, where she was a teammate with fellow Cougar freshman Tina Naros. She says her college decision was a longer process than Teeple's because she considered many different options.
"I talked to a lot of schools, it was a very late decision for me," she said. "I'm glad I chose here."
After the Cougars championship Saturday, sophomore Tally Mattos was named to the six-member All-Classic team and Junior Maria Omondi was named the Classic's most valuable player.
Columbia College will open American Midwest Conference play with a home match against Stephens College at 7 p.m. Tuesday.