The season started with two points given up by Stillwater High volleyball without a single volley.
The Lady Pioneers were penalized on back-to-back Ponca City serves due to an illegal formation – in both instances the same player was lined up in the wrong position.
That was the tone for most of the first set, with Stillwater mired by mistakes against the rival Wildcats.
But then a flip switched, and the Lady Pioneers won the next three sets to claim an opening-night victory 16-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-15 – with SHS really in control from the onset of each of the final three sets.
“It was good to see them respond like that,” first-year Stillwater High volleyball coach Kyle Liechti said. “… I’m proud of the way they responded.”
Liechti elected to work his rotation all night. With many of the players getting their first taste of varsity experience, all 12 active Lady Pioneers on the varsity roster received playing time throughout the four sets.
“We’re trying a bunch of different lineups. We don’t have anything set, yet,” Liechti said. “We had a really young sophomore setter come in for us, she did a great job, but she needs a little more experience.
“We’re playing a whole new game. … I keep telling them every day, everybody has a spot for us out on the court. We’re going to continue to play with our lineup at the beginning of the season – however long it takes to figure out that core group.”
Seniors Kenzie Vilade and Lauren Phillips, returning two-year starters from state qualifying teams, didn’t get the start for the new coach. Instead, they were worked into the rotation in the final three sets – each of which were wins for Stillwater.
Vilade started and played the entire second set, before returning to the bench in the third. While Phillips started and played the entire third set. Both started the fourth, with Vilade receiving a couple of breathers after SHS mounted an insurmountable lead.
“I think there was a lot of nerves at the start … but I remember how I was in my first varsity match,” Vilade said. “So we tried to go out there and be the light on the court in showing them that it’s really not that scary, and that if we do it together, we have a good outcome. We just tried to bring the energy, the positivity.”
With Vilade and Phillips, along with senior Sam Sanchez – who saw significant minutes last season – working the rotation in the fourth set, the Lady Pioneers got out to a big lead with a quick eight-point lead before coasting the rest of the way.
“The experience, I think, is a big help,” Liechti said. “They are used to being in situations like this, which we are a very young team overall. I would love for them to step up a little bit more on the leadership side, but they did a great job today – but even more from them would be great.”
Anchoring the rotation in each set for Stillwater was freshman Bess Glenn, who was responsible for around a dozen kills and a couple of aces off the serve.
“She’s a very strong player,” Vilade said. “She’s also mentally strong, and that’s something that’s really hard to master as a volleyball player.”
Stillwater will get an important opportunity to continue to work on the rotation this weekend, competing the Union Tournament – getting in multiple matches over two days starting Friday.