By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It doesn’t take much to realize what’s on the mind of the Stillwater High School volleyball team these days. The word — just one word — echoes throughout the Stillwater Junior High School gym. It’s plastered across their black practice T-shirts.
A year after the Lady Pioneers made their first appearance in the state tournament since 2009, Stillwater still is looking for the respect it deserves.
“That’s kind of what this season is about,” Stillwater senior Carly Geer said. “We’re a young team, so we’re going to have to earn it.”
Young may be the understatement of the year when it comes to describing the Lady Pioneers. Of the four seniors, only two — Geer and Sarah Carpenter — have seen much playing time at the varsity level.
“We’re making progress slowly,” Stillwater coach Jason Webber said. “We’re understanding a lot of the major concepts that we need to have to play the game. It’s neat to see the growth, it’s neat to see people catch on to certain ideas. There’s just a lot of youth and they need a lot of reps to continue growing.”
Handling a young squad is hard enough for a coach, but add in the high expectations that come with last year’s success and you’ve got a headache waiting to happen.
But that’s the thing about Webber and the Lady Pioneers. Not only are they ready to accept the pressure, they welcome it — and all the lack of respect that comes with having such a young team.
“There’s always that pressure,” Webber said. “I welcome that kind of pressure. It makes me rise to do my best day-in and day-out — year-in and year-out — and I look forward to it.
“They know the overall expectations and they have that drive to go back to state. One of my biggest challenges will be to find the right people to fill the right spots. ... I know they have the talent, I just don’t know if we’re going to get it ready in time. They’re youthful and they’re still doing some youthful things. I need some key people to make some key changes that would potentially make the difference for another state run.”
There in lies the X factor for Webber — whether or not he can pull everything together in time for state.
Through the first week and a half Geer said the team is still adapting to the new players, but the senior said it has been a good adjustment.
“It’s kind of difficult adapting to new people and learning to play with them, because we haven’t seen them before,” Geer said.
“Because we lost nine seniors, we got 10 new sophomores,” Carpenter said. “After a week we’re finally getting adjusted, but it took the whole week.”
A week may not seem like much time for a team to learn how each other plays, but time isn’t exactly on Stillwater’s side as it is. The Lady Pioneers will open the season Tuesday against Oklahoma Bible Academy in Enid before playing Broken Arrow at home Thursday.
“I’m not nervous,” Webber said. “I’m always excited because I love the game. I love to see my girls perform and I love to see them grow. I think that carries over to the girls. They’re excited for the same reasons. Most of them are not nervous, and I think we’ll play better and better and better. I think we will grow faster than our opponents.”
And what about that respect? Will the Lady Pioneers finally start turning heads again like Stillwater teams used to do?
“I think it’s way possible,” senior Morgan Wheatley said.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” Carpenter said. “Just because we are so young this year, I don’t know if people are expecting us to be as good we were last year, but I think that we’re going to surprise some people.”