PITTSBURG — It was an uphill battle for the Pittsburg State volleyball team this season, but by learning some lessons the hard way, the Gorillas made several improvements and look to hit their stride next year.

Although finishing with a record of 7-24, the Gorillas were competitive in nearly every set and made opponents earn wins.

“I think this season was a learning process,” PSU head coach Jen Gomez said. “It gave us a chance to get our freshmen class in and see what we were working with. I think what we did do this season was compete and there were a lot of games that came down to the wire. So, we learned a lot about overcoming adversity. I was really proud of the way our block improved because I think it was a lot better by the end of the season. I’m excited about developing the freshmen even more during the spring and seeing them come along.”

While allowing many leads to slip away at the end over the course of the season was frustrating, Gomez said being under the pressure allowed the team to grow.

“Some of the returning players had never been in those situations, so you never know how they’re going to respond,” he said. “But just the fact that we were in a lot of those situations this year and they didn’t go our way left a bad taste in our mouths. I think we just have to develop that killer mentality and push to the finish. I think we’re going to have to design a lot of drills and competitions this spring to make them more accountable.”

Despite some growing pains along the way, the team showed flashes of greatness and the freshmen gave a glimpse of a bright future.

Freshman Camryn Blanton led the team in assists with 456, with many of those passes going to freshman Mia Bledsoe, who was third on the team in kills with 196.

“I think the fact that the freshmen came in and weren’t afraid impressed me the most,” Gomez said. “Getting players in here who weren’t afraid to compete was what I was looking forward to the most. They didn’t know any better other than to just compete hard. The young kids made freshmen mistakes, but they’re not going to make those next year and I’m really looking forward to that.”

Helping the talented freshmen come along was a mature group of upperclassmen who are determined to leave the program better than the way they found it.

“I think Lauren Regier proved herself as our most consistent and steady player,” Gomez said. “I also think that Taylor Unke came on strong in the end and Camryn Blanton was good when she was healthy. I think it’s easy to give up and quit when you’re not having much success, but I never saw that out of our team. I think that can be attributed to the new blood in there. I really do think the fact that they didn’t give up says a lot about their integrity and their guts.”

Going into the offseason, players will continue to improve themselves and push each in the weightroom and in personal training.

“I want to see our returning players get stronger this offseason,” Gomez said. “I want to see our players work on speed and agility. We work basic skills during the offseason, but the individual players need to work on their commitment in the weight room and conditioning because that transfers over onto the court.”

While the players will continue to improve themselves, Gomez and the rest of the coaching staff will travel the country in search of top-level talent to help improve the team.

“We need to get people that will terminate balls,” Gomez said. “We need to sure up our outside and get an outside hitter who is hitting above .250 on the year. Our middles were good this season, but we need middles who will be All-Conference players. We’re just looking for players who will help us get the wins.”

Going into her second full offseason as the head coach, Gomez said better days are just around the corner.

“We need to be experienced enough to be able to get out of tough situations when we’re in them,” Gomez said. “We’re bringing in players who I think can do it, but we’re young. We have returners who have been in a losing program and others who just came in, so sometimes we don’t know how to respond to what’s coming at them. You can only learn that with experience and that’s where we’re at right now, but it’s going to get better.”

 — Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at jbuckamneer@morningsun.net and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.