BOWLING GREEN -- The Bowling Green volleyball team thrives on swagger, a confidence built over seven years of dominating the Northern Lakes League.
The Bobcats once again are charging towards another NLL title with self-assurance. Led by eight seniors, Bowling Green is 7-0 in league play and is halfway toward wrapping up an eighth straight NLL crown.
Coach Deb Mathias has steered the surge since 2004.
"I really believe that success breeds success," Mathias said. "You have to walk out there with that swagger. That is one of my big things. If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. They go out there and play with confidence because of having that background of success."
Mathias said she believes foes "lose to the jersey" when they play Bowling Green.
"It gives you a mental edge with our opponents. It makes a great deal of difference," she said. "They think, 'Oh we have to play BG.' "
Bolstering that momentum this year is experience. Senior middle hitter Chelsea Watson, a four-year starter, is second on the team with 99 kills. Watson said winning an NLL title has become more of an expectation than a goal.
"The swagger, as coach would call it, is definitely helpful," Watson said. "We use that to our advantage. I think we intimidate other teams. They have that deer in the headlight look and they're scared."
The success in the NLL translated into a tournament run in 2007 when the Bobcats won a Division I district title. BG has won five sectional titles.
Mathias, who is stepping down after this season for personal reasons, said this year's team has the ability to be as good as the 2007 team.
"I think this is one of my better teams," she said. "They have the potential to be my best team, overall. We're not quite there yet. But we have the potential to be."
Mathias said Bowling Green (8-2) was working through some injuries in the early season. The team's only losses are to Central Catholic and Madison Comprehensive, the No. 1 ranked team in Division II.
The Bobcats posted one of the biggest wins of the season Sept. 10 when they knocked off Findlay. The Trojans are ranked No. 13 in the D-I.
"Every year it seems like we ran into a wall with Findlay [in the postseason]," Watson said. "So that was a huge confidence booster for our team. We know can make it far in the tournament."
The Bobcats have been perfect in their first round through league play. They defeated Perrysburg, which is expected to provide a good challenge, 25-23, 25-14, and 25-20.
Leading the way in that match was senior outside hitter Kelsey Lahey, who leads the team with 143 kills. Lahey, who will play at Marist College, broke her foot in the offseason but is now back at full swing.
While Lahey may be the team's leader in kills, Mathias said the seniors lead as a group.
"No one steps out," she said. "They all sort of do it together."
The other seniors are defensive specialist Hayley Williford, setter Amanda Mazey, middle hitter Alyssa Kopp, defensive specialist Molly Beattie, libero Haley Broadway and right side hitter Jenna Stoner.
Mazey leads the team in assists (314), while Williford leads in aces (14). Kopp has a team-high 22 blocks and Broadway leads with 99 digs.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Sikula is third on the team with 64 kills.
Mathias said they all understand the program's "standards" and "expectations."
"They push each other," Mathias said.
Watson said having seven fellow seniors allows for balanced management.
"There are so many leaders on the court," she said. "It helps if someone is having an off day, you always have someone back there to pick up your spirits and push you along."
Watson, who will play volleyball at Niagara University, said the seniors help each other build momentum in matches.
"Confidence is huge in volleyball," she said. "Most of the points you score are on the other team's errors. When the other team is scared or nervous, they can fall apart."
Mathias attributes much of the success to the team's training and conditioning program which extends into the off season.
"A lot of the girls play club and go to camps," she said.
Mathias has been coaching for 11 years, including stops at Otsego and Bowsher. She said she is stepping down to spend more time with her son, Aiden, 1, and her husband Doug. The couple have two other children, Dalton and Hannah.
"I figured this was the best time to go out with eight seniors," Mathias said.
She said she is proud the program has done excelled for so long.
"It means a lot to me. There have been some naysayers over the years that said we've been lucky," Mathias said. "But you can't get lucky seven times in a row. It's been an experience."
But she admits she wants more than an eighth NLL title.
"I'd like a final four [state semifinals] trip," Mathias said. "That would be my way to go if I were to pick."
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade