By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Earlier in the year, the Stillwater High School volleyball team dropped a five-game match to Edmond Santa Fe in the Union tournament. It was one of those gut-wrenching losses that builds character on a team but can leave a bad taste in your mouth for weeks.
Now the Lady Pioneers are hoping to use it as fuel when they open the Class 6A state tournament against that same Edmond Santa Fe squad at 2:30 p.m. Friday in Shawnee.
“Looking back at that game, we were so early in the season and there was so much that we had not even begun to work on that we’re a completely different team now,” Stillwater coach Jason Webber said. “We’ve added so much to our game. We play at a different pace, we’re a lot more organized and we’re a lot more disciplined. Everyone knows what their job is and they know exactly where to go. That’s our main focus now, to just make sure there’s no miscommunication.”
Edmond Santa Fe may have taken both of this year’s matches — including a three-game sweep in Edmond on Aug. 23 — but Webber said that doesn’t lower his expectations for Friday’s match.
“My expectations are very high,” Webber said. “I think we need to be reasonable and well-grounded, but there’s no doubt in my mind of what our team can do here. I expect that we’ll give Santa Fe one of the biggest fights they’ve seen all season.”
Webber doesn’t have just one reason why he feels confident heading into the Santa Fe game — he has nine. The nine seniors on this year’s team have been in big games before and Webber said he expects that to be a huge advantage for the Lady Pioneers.
“We’re going to walk into the state tournament like it’s just another big game,” Webber said. “We’re not even going to worry about the state tournament aspect of it, we’re just going to play our hardest. Every time this team has stuck to their fundamentals and their principles, they’ve done very well. We have a lot of veterans that know how to get into the game, know how to relax and know how to find ways to get back on the opponent.”
Veteran leadership may be the key for the Lady Pioneers, but so will some crucial experience during what normally would have been week full of practices.
Stillwater scrimmaged against Class 5A state qualifier Oklahoma Bible Academy on Tuesday as part of its preparation for the state tournament.
“I think it helped a lot because we got to look at some minor areas where we needed some help,” Webber said. “We put some girls in positions that they might be force to play in the state tournament and it made us that much stronger. You never know who you may have to use, so now we have a good idea of what all our girls are capable of doing in any position we put them in.”
The Lady Pioneers have also spent several hours in the film room dissecting their matches and Edmond Santa Fe’s matches.
“That’s been important because we’ve learned how they like to play,” Webber said. “We know who the key players are and what they like to do, and that should make for a tighter match. We just have to make sure that we rely on the stuff we’ve learned throughout the season.”
No matter how much time Stillwater has spent practicing on the basics or watching tape, Webber knows that what it all boils down to letting the Lady Pioneers play with the same relaxed freedom that earned them their first state playoff berth in three years.
“We’re excited,” Webber said. “We wanted to be hitting our peak right at the state tournament, and I feel like we’re right on track. The girls played well in regionals and I think they have the confidence to come out and give it their all in the state tournament.”