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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Evan HolmesJunior Abby Trachsel is announced in California’s starting lineup on Thursday night.

WARDSVILLE, Mo. — The California Lady Pintos volleyball team traveled to Blair Oaks High School Thursday night for its biggest test of the season.

Both the Lady Pintos and Lady Falcons entered the contest off fast starts to the season — California boasted a record of 9-0-1, while Blair Oaks came in with a record of 9-2 and an 18-6 overall record against California.

It was also a matchup where the Lady Pintos would be at a disadvantage. California had previously lost starters Bailey Lage and Emma Parish to ankle injuries, and both would be out of action. California did get an emotional boost when junior Abby Trachsel returned from an eye injury she suffered against Marshall Sept. 13. With two empty spots in the starting lineup, head coach Julie Bailey had to shuffle both the starters and bench rotations. Bailey chose to insert senior Rylee Hees as the starting libero in replace of Parish, while sophomore Ella Bailey replaced Lage in the back line.

The Lady Pintos had difficulty keeping up with the fast-paced style of play that has become Blair Oak's trademark. The Lady Pintos played to a slow start in each set and found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to play from behind. Though California made valiant comeback attempts in each set, the Lady Falcons always had an answer. The Lady Pintos fell to Blair Oaks 3-0 (17-25, 16-25, 20-25) and lost a match for the first time in the 2021-22 season.

It was a tough defeat for the Lady Pintos to take at the hands of the Tri-County Conference rival. With every loss there comes a lesson and for California, there were multiple takeaways, Bailey said.

"Our defense didn't respond at first. We finally started responding in that third set, but it was a little bit too late," Bailey said. "We had to make that adjustment and it took us three sets to figure it out."

One of the key takeaways from Thursday's defeat was the fact that the Lady Pintos had not yet faced a team that played a pace as fast and aggressive as Blair Oaks had. In volleyball, it's one thing to play fast yourselves, but it's another thing to play against another fast-paced team, Bailey said.

"I don't think we knew how to react to their fast-paced offense. They had a lot of quick sets and we hadn't faced that yet," Baliey said. "We didn't react as quickly as we should have and it took us a while to figure that out."

The Lady Pintos often had to make several changes on the fly and in between sets Thursday. Bailey also said that California played better as the night wore on, but they still need to learn how to play collectively without two of their leading players.

"We did adjust and Lauren (Friedrich) and Ella (Lewis) started getting some blocks that they weren't first getting. So they made that adjustment to their quick-paced offense," Bailey explained. "We're just going to have to figure out what to do right now with Bailey and Emma. We're going to have to learn how to practice that way and try to get better."

The Lady Pintos will look to shake the dust off their shoes and get back in the win column this week. They played Capital City High School in Jefferson City Tuesday, and they will return home for a matchup with Eugene High School Thursday.

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