By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s often said that there’s no such thing as a moral victory in volleyball. Try telling that to the Stillwater High School volleyball squad.
While they didn’t come away with a win over Class 6A No. 1 Edmond Santa Fe — in fact, getting swept 3-0 — a sense of accomplishment did fill the air inside the Pioneer Fieldhouse Thursday.
“We played very well,” Stillwater coach Jason Webber said. “This was some of the sharpest volleyball that we’ve played in some time, keeping the ball high and off. We made many fewer mistakes and the girls are getting better and better about knowing what they need to do.”
At times, Stillwater (5-5) looked like a team that was going to give Santa Fe (8-1) a run for its money — or at least make the trip up I-35 worthwhile. Other times, the Lady Pioneers struggled with the fundamentals, as the Lady Wolves completed the sweep winning 25-17, 25-23, 25-17.
“Every once in a while when you get in the heat of a battle of a very big game, you forget some of the very simple basics that can help you edge other teams,” Webber said. “It was the basics that would help us surge in game points to close the gap, but it was also those same basics that allowed the other team to surge forward.”
Early it looked like Stillwater might pull off the upset, jumping to an early 5-1 lead in the first game thanks to a big block by Maggie Ireton.
“I think we were just ready,” Ireton said. “We practiced so hard and we were just preparing for it. The first game, we came out and were just on. I don’t know how else to say it. Our heads were in the game and it felt like we were at state.”
That lead quickly vanished as Sante Fe’s long, athletic front started to piece things together. With Stillwater clinging to a one-point lead, the Lady Wolves then went on a 12-3 run to earn a 25-17 victory in the first set.
Dropping a set like that might have killed most team’s confidence — especially against the No. 1 team in the state — but that wasn’t the case for the Lady Pioneers in the second game.
Even after sustaining a 7-0 Santa Fe run, Stillwater refused to let the second game slip. Trailing 22-17, a block by Lauren Gattis sparked the Lady Pioneers, while Sarah Carpenter’s serves created even more problems for Santa Fe. But in the end, the Lady Wolves got the final kill before Stillwater could complete its comeback, picking up a 25-23 victory.
“In that second game, we saw ourselves up there,” Ireton said. “We saw ourselves beating them and coming out on top.”
“I had one of my senior servers go back and told her that I needed everything she had — the ball had to go over and in,” Webber said. “She rattled off three points. That was a nice, small victory because in the heat of pressure we were trying to visualize being at the state tournament. This young lady was able to do that and was able to cause frustration to the other team.”
After two emotional losses, the Lady Pioneers just seemed to run out of steam in the end as Santa Fe’s big hitters began clicking like a finely tuned machine. Stillwater did make it a little bit of a game late thanks to another block from Ireton and a couple of kills by Shelby Childers, but it wasn’t enough as Santa Fe completed the sweep.
“I think (this match) gives us the type of information to go back into the gym and grow and climb the ranks,” Webber said. “If we can play this well against the No. 1 seed, Stillwater can be a pretty good team. We have to do what we did (Thursday) and we have to come together every night and every practice.”
Childers led the Lady Pioneers with seven kills and four aces, while Ireton tallied five kills and three blocks. Carley Walstad added 13 assists.
“It still feels amazing,” Ireton said. “It still feels like it was one of our best games that we’ve played together. We’re starting to be a real team and I still feel amazing, no matter who won or lost because in the end we all felt like we won.”
The Lady Pioneers will travel to Bartlesville Tuesday before facing Enid at Pioneer Fieldhouse Thursday.
“I think our confidence is sky-high right now,” Ireton said. “It was before, but now it’s really up there.”