There is one factor that has kept Notre Dame Academy of Hingham one step ahead of the competition this season.
They’re not afraid.
And, according to returning Globe volleyball All-Scholastic Julia Flynn, a book got them there.
“I knew our whole team had potential last year. We were a good team but I feel like we were missing something … mentally-wise,” she said.
This year would be different.
Cougars coach Josh Shepherd started a unique trend with his girls – reading “The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players” by legendary NBA coach Pat Riley.
Before and after practice the Cougars squad gathers to read a chapter from the book, assigned by Shepherd, which works to enrich an athlete’s mental game.
“We’ve come closer together with the book,” said Flynn. “We’ve been working on it every year, but we’re focusing on it more. Each chapter we go through, like [chapter one] “The Innocent Climb,” we’re going through that. Everything relates perfectly for the team. It’s the kind of book we reflect on.”
Flynn recalled most clearly chapter four “Thunderbolts.”
“Once you get past these thunderbolts or mistakes on the court where one person is being down on themself, which affects everyone, you have to break through and everyone is doing their own job and functioning as one,” said Flynn.
“It’s very inspirational,” she said.
Flynn has used her mental game and her role as captain to act as the “voice of the team.”
“Compared to last year, I feel like I stepped up. I came in with more confidence than last year. I kind of thought I used to get down on myself a lot but I worked on that during club [volleyball] and I mastered that now even if I get down, I don’t show it,” said Flynn.
As a Cougars captain, Flynn felt her job was to get players motivated, her main focus and she used SMASH club volleyball to develop as a player.
“I’m the voice of the court and they look up to me and we work together,” she said.
At 13-1, and with the squad’s only loss to defending state champion Barnstable, one could say the mental game is working.
“I expected us to be a good team the first practice,” said a very confident Flynn.
And the Cougars have been nothing but exceptional. The squad was the first to take two sets from a still-undefeated Barnstable at which Flynn played a large role.
The senior led with 25 kills, a 49% kill percentage, and 12 digs. Shepherd nominated her as the player of the match saying, “Julia established herself as the dominant attacker as the match progressed and established herself as on of the state’s premier players.”
This match was a big deal for Flynn who felt as though the Cougars could not beat Barnstable in the past, and again, she attributed this to the squad’s mental game.
“Even if the score was close, we let them take it. We got scared and they always took over,” she said.
With much assurance, Flynn said “this year is different. We’re more prepared to play them. We were right there with them last time, but at the end, like last year, they took it from us again.”
“Wednesday, I think it’s going to be different,” she said.
The Cougars get a second chance at Barnstable, this time, at home Wednesday.
“I know reading the book and coach talking about being prepared mentally-wise, as a team we have it together to beat them. I’m ready. I’m pumped,” she said.
This mental game has helped the Cougars steamroll past several Top 20 competitors, including Medfield, Sacred Heart, Canton and most recently, Newton North, 3-1. The Cougars have swept nine teams this season.
In her game against Newton North, “we lost we kind of were scared to lose and were kind of digging ourselves into a whole,” she said. But, “our passing was key and we pulled it through in the third [set],” she said.
Despite what happens in the remainder of the season, prepare to see the Cougars in the postseason and certainly not as the underdog.
What Flynn has learned most on the Cougars squad is to “leave it all on the court,” she said. “Don’t think about [your] mistakes or what [you] did. That makes [teammates] be negative. They should just let it go by not thinking about it and thinking about the next play instead of on themselves.
This idea is what has carried the Cougars all season long.
Games of the Week
No. 1 Barnstable at No. 2 Notre Dame of Hingham, Wed., 5 — Barnstable handed the Cougars their only loss of the season, 3-2, with Julia Flynn’s 25 kills and 12 digs, Avery Spaziani’s 17 kills and 10 digs, and Cori Cox’s 59 assists. However, the Cougars are certainly not the underdog this season after having taken down top programs Westboro, Medfield (twice), and Sacred Heart.
No. 3 Bishop Fenwick at No. 11 Medfield, Thurs., 6:30 – What a perfect way for Bishop Fenwick to ends its season — they get a second chance to avenge a season-opening 3-0 loss to Medfield. This was the Crusaders only loss this season and after Medfield’s losses to Barnstable and Notre Dame of Hingham recently, Fenwick could have the upper hand.
No. 8 Newton North at No. 4 Brookline, Tue., 4 — Brookline was the first squad to shake up the Tigers with a 3-1 win on Sept. 24. The Tigers have hit speed bumps with Barnstable and recently Notre Dame of Hingham, meaning they have a lot more to prove if they want to compete in the tournament.
No. 13 North Andover at No. 18 Lynnfield, Mon., 5 pm — In a tightly contested matchup Sept. 30, North Andover came out on top, 22-26, 25-23, 23-25, 25-17, 16-14, with Erin Cox’s six service aces. This one should be just as close.
No. 5 Bourne at No. 17 Fairhaven, Fri., 6 — Bourne swept Fairhaven on Sept. 23 and remains undefeated at 15-0. Fairhaven hasn’t had the same luck with three losses.