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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Parkland's Kayla Brandon (11), Parkland's Abigail Burnett (3) and Parkland's Rachel Verdun (19) celebrate a point with teammates during Parkland's first match at its own Parkland Classic on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Parkland's Kayla Brandon (11), Parkland's Abigail Burnett (3) and Parkland's Rachel Verdun (19) celebrate a point with teammates during Parkland's first match at its own Parkland Classic on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.

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It’s essentially national title or bust every season for Parkland volleyball. Given the track record — and sterling 542-50 overall record the Cobras have achieved under 11th-year coach Cliff Hastings — it makes sense. Sports Editor MATT DANIELS caught up with Hastings to find out more about his program before the Cobras depart for West Virginia and the start of the 16-team NJCAA Division II national tournament on Thursday:

It’s Parkland’s 11th consecutive trip to nationals. The Cobras have finished no worse than fourth every year since 2012, setting high expectations. But Hastings does his best to treasure each time the Cobras advance this far on the national stage.

HASTINGS: I wouldn’t say it ever gets old, but it did start to feel expected after a while.

Three years ago, one of my players called me out for not being excited enough about qualifying for nationals. She said, ‘I know you do it every year, but this is our first time. Don’t forget that we haven’t been there over and over although Parkland has.’

I thought that was really good feedback, and I took that to heart. So I really do my best to treat each time like a gift and like it’s the first time. The girls have seemed more appreciative of that since.

Parkland won back-to-back national titles in 2015 and 2016.

HASTINGS: I’m confident that we’ll win it every year. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s probably a little bit arrogance, a little bit pride in Parkland volleyball and a lot of confidence in the girls and the team we have. The girls always know I have that confidence in them and us. I think that’s partially why they like playing at Parkland.

But with confidence also comes pressure.

HASTINGS: I have to be careful about what we put on the shoulders of a bunch of teenage girls as well.

Each year, I play with that balance to see what fits that year’s team best. Either go with supreme confidence so there should be no thoughts of anything less, or go with wide-eyed optimism and just play and hope for the best. It’s tough to find the right balance that fits for 20 individual personalities and confidence levels.

They all know, though, that it’s the plan. When we win it, we’ll have an amazing season to celebrate. And in the slight chance we don’t win it, I tell them a lot how much I appreciate them, their sacrifices and their willingness to spend four straight months with me on this journey.

This year’s Parkland team has an impressive record. Hastings sees similarities between it and the 2016 team that won the program’s last national championship.

HASTINGS: Laura Gross, Taylor Bauer, Jaime Johnson and others led that group three years ago.

Our talent is well-distributed throughout the team, as is our leadership and decision-making abilities. While each girls has her specific role to help our team be successful, the leadership comes from many different girls on just as many topics.

Plus, Laura’s group had the opportunity to be on the court their freshmen year when they won the national title, and it felt much easier their sophomore year in repeating what they had already done.

This year, our sophomores were also on the court fighting for the title last year, so I expect them to be more calm and present in each moment.

Parkland’s bench is sometimes more entertaining to watch than the match.

HASTINGS: My first year at Parkland, we played the defending national champions early in the season. We had 10 girls. They had 18 girls, and their bench was constantly banging on the floor, cheering in unison and having a great time.

For our girls, half the team couldn’t stop talking about it because they hated it and the other half didn’t say a word because they looked freaked out. It taught me that if you can take the battle from 6-on-6 to 18-on-6, your team is often going to come out on top.

We spend a lot of time talking about how all 20 girls on this team are important to our success. Freshmen sometimes struggle to see the value from it, but the sophomores always buy in. When we have a group that really enjoy each other — like we do this year — it can be as fun to watch as the game itself.