By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
In the world where winning now and winning big is the latest rage, sometimes one thing gets lost in high school athletics — fun.
But on the eve of the Stillwater High School volleyball team’s biggest tournament of the season — the Stillwater Varsity Tournament — fun that was the main focus during Stillwater’s 3-0 sweep of Ponca City Thursday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“That was a lot of fun,” Stillwater coach Jason Webber said. “What I was personally looking for was to throw in some of my younger players and see if there fundamentals would hold and see them come together. There was not a normal lineup that we ran, it was all brand new, so I just wanted to make sure my girls still understood the fundamental concepts of volleyball even when they don’t feel too comfortable about the girl next to them.”
Using nearly every player on his roster — most who only had junior varsity experience — Webber experimented with several different formations and lineups. Yet every punch he pulled seemed to turn into gold as Stillwater won in three games 25-12, 25-17 and 25-16.
“We do that a lot in practice where we mix things up,” Stillwater senior Carley Geer said. “We work as a team. I think all of us being positive and working as a team, was a lot of work but it helped a lot.”
It did take a little while for the Lady Pioneers (9-12) to find their groove as they struggled during the early portions of the first game, but Stillwater eventually got the ball rolling thanks to an ace by Emily Hoecker. From there, the Lady Pioneers coasted, going on a 11-2 run to take an 18-7 lead.
Ponca City did manage to close the gap slightly, but back-to-back aces by Jessica Denton eventually sealed the first game with a 25-12 victory.
“I think that just showed that we’re all hard workers, we’re all willing to fight and we’re willing to do anything to keep our team ahead,” Geer said.
That’s when the experimenting began.
Webber began shuffling his lineup like a mad scientist, moving Carley Geer from libero and replacing her with Hoecker. He also began mixing in several junior varsity players.
It didn’t matter as the Lady Pioneers continued to pour it on.
“It was a good time to work on different things in the game,” Geer said. “I worked on hitting because I don’t usually hit from the back row. It gave me a different aspect of the game.”
“It was neat for (Geer) to have an opportunity like that,” Webber said. “I enjoy seeing the girls have a little fun and be a little happy about what they’re doing, so that was a lot of fun. She was very excited to go out there and hit the ball around and just do something that’s out of the ordinary. It keeps her fresh and keeps her loving the game from a different perspective.”
Again, Stillwater jumped out to an early 13-6 lead with the help of a big slam by Ella Luttbeg. A block by Maggie Ireton only fueled the Lady Pioneers as they went on to take the second game 25-17.
“That goes to show how hard we try to make sure that our girls are well-rounded,” Webber said. “It’s good for the young ones to see a little bit of varsity action and see what that long night feels like.”
With a team full of junior varsity players starting, Stillwater got off to another slow start in the third game before Morgan Wheatley’s block provided a big boost for the Lady Pioneers.
More Ponca City miscues only added fuel to an already burning inferno of confidence in the young players as Luttbeg again came up with a big kill before Audrey McHendry ended the match with a perfectly placed kill for a 25-16 victory.
“It was my plan to have the night end with just jayvee players,” Webber said. “That’s the way we were able to go. They held their own. They know the fundamentals and they just executed those, and just awaited anything that Ponca hit at them.”
The Lady Pioneers will open the Stillwater Varsity tournament against Class 6A No. 2 Edmond North at 10 a.m. Friday before facing Bartlesville and capping the day off with Bishop McGuinness.
“Hopefully the rest will do some good because we have some of the toughest competition tomorrow,” Webber said. “It’s all within a 48-hour period that we have to show what we can do as a team.”