By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Before the Stillwater Varsity Tournament began Friday, Stillwater High School volleyball coach had three simple words for his team — “You must believe.”
Saturday, the Lady Pioneers not only made a believer out of Webber but also several teams across the state by finishing in third place and splitting matches against Tulsa Union and Edmond Memorial.
“That was our goal, to inspire others and have them say at the end of this tournament, ‘There goes a good team,’” Webber said.
No doubt, a lot of teams were saying that about the Lady Pioneers (12-15) by the time everything was said and done Saturday as Stillwater finished 3-2 in the tournament — its lone losses to Edmond North Friday and to Union in the first match Saturday.
“Our goal this weekend was to be poised,” Stillwater senior Sarah Carpenter said. “We stayed extremely poised and we just fought the whole time. We never gave up.”
Even as Edmond Memorial closed the gap to three, 23-20, in the fourth and final set of the third-place match, Stillwater — and namely Carpenter — remained poised. The senior’s high-arching shot seemed destined to sail out of bounds only to spin inside the line, helping Stillwater take the set 25-20 and claim a 3-1 win over the Lady Bulldogs.
That’s just how the night went for Carpenter, who tallied a team-high five aces and helped spark Stillwater to the win.
“That is a typical Sarah Carpenter attack,” Webber said. “She hits really high, she hits deep, and then at the last second it spins in. Sarah has this way of having that thing spin down.”
After struggling with its focus earlier in the day, Stillwater had no problem keeping its eyes on the prize against Edmond Memorial, taking the first game 25-18.
Stillwater carried that momentum through the second opening with a 9-1 run and never leaving much doubt, thanks to three aces by Carpenter. Shelby Childers also had a pair of aces to go along with four kills in the set as Stillwater cruised to a 25-13 victory.
“If you couldn’t see, we were all smiling,” Carpenter said. “We were all just having fun and working together as a team. ... This was really one of the first times this season that we really played as one unit and one team. Everyone was happy and working together.”
That wasn’t the case in the third set against the Lady Bulldogs.
Perhaps it was a little over confidence — or the fact that Memorial coach Natalie Murray ripped into her team following the loss — but the Lady Bulldogs returned the favor with a 25-11 win in the third set.
But even that didn’t deter the Lady Pioneers in the fourth set as they parlayed a pair of aces by Childers into a 6-0 run before Memorial made its comeback late before Carpenter’s heroics.
“It’s good to Shelby back there,” Webber said. “When she makes her serves, I fear for the other team. She’s a pretty deadly server when she gets on a roll.”
Stillwater may have looked sharp against Edmond Memorial in the final game but that wasn’t necessarily the case earlier Saturday.
Call it a homecoming hangover or possibly just exhaustion from a tumultuous first day, but the Lady Pioneers struggled in its opening game of the day against Tulsa Union, losing 3-0 in the championship semifinals.
At times, Stillwater looked like the team that beat Bartlesville and Bishop McGuinness Friday. Other times? There was a noticeable lack of focus and communication.
“We were a little out of focus,” Webber said. “We were a half step behind with some of the things we needed to do. Union was fresh and ready to go. They walked into the gym ready to go, so that was tough.”
Stillwater fell behind early in the first set before a 5-0 run even the score at 11-11. The Lady Redskins then went on an 8-4 tear to end the game for a 25-19 victory.
“We knew they were out for blood,” Webber said. “We knew what it would take to beat them. We just couldn’t accomplish those basic ideas.”
Union jumped out to a 13-4 lead early in the second game before Stillwater came roaring back with an 8-2 run, capped off by Shelby Childers’ kill to close the gap to 15-12. But the Lady Pioneers could never get completely over the hump, losing 25-19.
Hoping to at least force a fourth game, Stillwater went toe-to-toe with Union early in the third game, but never could shake off the mental struggles from earlier in the match, dropping the third game 25-17.
“Mentally we were a little bit more tired than we were (Friday),” Webber said. “We put a lot of energy into pool play (Friday), and that can sometimes have an effect on Day 2. Better teams usually can put it together, though.”
The Lady Pioneers won’t have to wait long for a chance to redeem themselves as they travel to Union Tuesday.
“It’s great because we get to play Union again on Tuesday,” Carpenter said. “We’re very excited to play Union and take how we worked together (against Edmond Memorial) and play Union again and win this time.”