BRADENTON -- Rachel Batey didn't blame it on that tough loss one game prior, the sudden string of hitting errors or the fact that one of Manatee's best players has been sidelined by an ankle injury.
In the aftermath of Manatee's 3-2 loss to Palm Harbor University on Tuesday in a Class 8A-District 8 volleyball match, Manatee's head coach thought it was something else.
"I think it came down to mental toughness, and (Palm Harbor) is stronger mentally than we are," she said. "We have a lot to work on and thankfully it's early on in the season. (Palm Harbor) played a great game, they really did. But I just have to say we're a force to be reckoned with."
Following a nightmarish opener, which Palm Harbor (8-2, 2-1) won 25-13, Manatee (3-2, 1-2) backed its coach's words with a 25-18 win in Game 2 and a 26-24 victory in Game 3.
The local Hurricanes trailed the third game 24-23 before Palm Harbor, also the Hurricanes, committed a pair of hitting errors and Becca Butler clinched the win with a net-grazing ace.
Manatee appeared poised to win the match in Game 4 when a kill from Kelly Stewart gave the local Canes a 20-19 lead. But Palm Harbor got the ball back thanks to AnnaMarie Huy's block and rolled to a 25-21 victory.
Game 5 wasn't nearly as climactic. After tying the score at 1, Manatee was done in by five straight hitting errors, and Palm Harbor closed them out with a 15-6 win.
"I think a little bit of it was mental," said Butler, a senior who shares captain duties with Stewart. "We're still finding that chemistry."
Manatee was without sophomore Hailey Coulter, who is out with a left ankle sprain. Butler had 11 kills, and Jacqui Armer added six.
"I think we could've taken it had we brought it in every time and took a deep breath," Butler said, "and been a little more excited from the points that we did earn."
Class 8A-District 8 is a four-team group that includes St. Petersburg and Sarasota Riverview, as well as some parity. Manatee lost to Riverview but beat St. Petersburg, while Palm Harbor had the opposite results against each team.
Consequently, Batey said she believes her team will get better as the season rolls along.
"We have a lot to learn, and once we learn more, I think the mental toughness will come because we'll have our confidence," she said. "But don't count us out yet."