By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stillwater High School volleyball coach Jason Webber remembers the lone three-game set against Edmond Santa Fe well.
While the Lady Pioneers played some of their best volleyball that night, it’s the after affects that the coach remembers the most.
That loss started a string of eight losses over the next 10 matches — a period when it looked like the idea of a second straight state tournament berth seemed like an impossible dream.
“This year, people didn’t think we were going back,” Stillwater senior co-captain Sarah Carpenter said. “We’re such a young team. Just the makeup — a few seniors and the rest underclassmen — that’s not normally a formula to go to state. At the beginning of the year, honestly, we weren’t looking very strong.”
“We had our rough games and our down games,” Stillwater senior co-captain Carley Geer said. “But in the end we pulled through and showed everybody that we could do it.”
Through it all, Webber didn’t panic. He stayed calm, knowing eventually his team would turn the corner.
Now, after watching the wheels nearly fall off on the season, the Lady Pioneers are not only back in the state tournament, playing the same Edmond Santa Fe team that knocked them out a year ago, but they’re expecting to pull off the upset when they face the Wolves at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Bixby.
“My expectation is to beat them,” Webber said. “We are as mentally prepared as we’ve ever been, we’re as determined as we’ve ever been, we’re as united as we’ve ever been and we’re growing more so every day. I have never seen such determination in a group of young ladies, battling through tough spots in the season and bright spots, then shining so much at the end. They’ve always know that the important thing is to keep learning and keep growing and peak during regionals and the state tournament and I believe we will do that.
“We have the team that it takes to beat just about any team in the state right now. We have gotten better since the last time we saw them, so the odds are very good.”
It’s not cockiness or a boastful attitude that Webber is projecting, it’s simply fact.
Over the last two weeks, Stillwater has beaten four top 10 teams during a stretch where they’ve gone 9-3. All of those losses? Also to top 10 talent, including a five-game heartbreaker at No. 8 Owasso.
“I don’t know how we did it,” Webber said. “I set the image in their minds and they are all about the work of doing it. They said, ‘This is what our goal is. This is when we want to accomplish it, so we have to work on the basic skills to get us there.’”
That recent success coupled with Stillwater’s somewhat surprising match earlier in the season against the Lady Wolves, makes Friday’s match in Bixby that much more interesting.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Webber said. “We know that the mistakes we made were simple ones that we can fix in a matter of days.”
As for those early struggles? They seem so far in the past that Webber doesn’t expect them to be a factor at state, even going against the top-ranked team in the state.
“We’ve matured so much that I don’t think youth is playing as much of a factor as it did during the season,” Webber said. “They’re more determined, so that dissipates and disappears as the girls play as a team.”
That’s the key for the Lady Pioneers if they want to pull off the upset — playing as a team. That and maybe a little luck.
“We just have to stay poised and balanced, all of it we’ve been going over (in practice) for state,” Stillwater senior Maggie Ireton said. “Our confidence is so high. We have just done things that nobody thought we were going to do. Even ourselves and our coach didn’t think we would overcome everything, and we did it. Now we’re going to prove to everyone else that we can do more.”