By Matt Goisman
TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah volleyball coach Don Ogden put his two best servers first and second in the serving rotation.
With Katie Schneider and Gillian Tinnin leading the way, the Lady Tigers proved too much for the McAlester Lady Buffaloes.
Schneider and Tinnin combined for 10 aces and eight kills, powering the Lady Tigers to a 3-0 win against the Buffs in Tuesday’s Class 5A Regional semifinal at the Tahlequah Multi-Purpose Activity Center. Tahlequah won 25-8, 25-8 and 25-13.
“We could definitely have moved a little quicker, but I’m not disappoint in the effort that was given,” McAlester coach Anita Burns said.
Schneider and Tinnin helped the Lady Tigers start fast in both the first and second sets Tuesday, with Tahlequah both times building 9-1 leads McAlester never challenged. Tinnin rattled off three consecutive kills in the first set to put the Lady Tigers up 7-0 before Preziosita Crawford finally ended Tahlequah’s run with a kill of her own.
“They weren’t coming up short, and they couldn’t pick up tips,” Tinnin said.
“When we play teams like that, we just have to not play down to their level. Just not get crazy, do the easy stuff.”
The Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Buffs 5-2 after Crawford’s first-set kill, but Tahlequah then went on a 6-0 run to make it 18-4. Cassie Goodnight recorded an ace for the Lady Tigers, and the other five points came on unforced McAlester errors.
A hit out of bounds ended that run, but up 21-14, Tahlequah went on a 4-0 run to win the set. Tinnin’s ace made it 23-8, then Amanda Milnick recorded back-to-back kills to end the set.
Schneider didn’t score a point for the Lady Tigers in the first set, but she came out firing in the second set, serving up three aces to help her team jump out to a 6-0 lead.
“I always try to aim to a certain spot on the court, whether it’s a person or just a spot that I see that’s open,” Schneider said. “I mainly just tried to target the middle of the floor, because nobody was there. They were really pushed back and really pushed up.”
Kylie Murdaugh ended Tahlequah’s run with a kill, but Milnick later fired off three aces in four serves to put her team up 14-2. McAlester never managed more than two points in a row in the second set — half their points that set came via unforced Tahlequah errors — and with her team up 23-8, Schneider fired off two more aces to end the set.
Tahlequah didn’t play particularly complicated volleyball against the Lady Buffs. They didn’t run their middle hitters to the right, they didn’t use cut-sets to the outside or quick-sets to the middle.
Instead, the Lady Tigers just put serves in play, passed well and showed solid volleyball fundamentals.
“We took where the pass sent us,” Ogden said. “So no matter where it went, we tried to set near that so that we’d have a limited amount of errors and we’d have a chance to get a swing on the ball. We like to keep people below double-figures on defense, and a lot of times, it’s not so much your defense, it’s your unforced errors.”
The Lady Buffs played their best in the third set, keeping the deficit within five throughout the early goings of the game. Crawford’s kill made it 13-10 Tahlequah, and a Tahlequah hit out of bounds made it a two-point game.
Tinnin served up back-to-back aces to make it 15-11, then the Lady Tigers out-scored the Lady Buffs 9-2 to win the match.
Schneider scored two of Tahlequah’s last five points with kills.
Murdaugh led McAlester’s offense with five kills. Her best sequence came at the start of the third set, when she won two one-on-one jousts at the net with Tahlequah’s middle before finally knocking one to the court to tie the game 1-1.
“She was getting a lot of touches on the ball, and that’s what she’s up there for,” Burns said of Murdaugh.
“She was getting high, getting touches on the ball, slowing it down, doing her job.”
But while Murdaugh had some success, McAlester’s offense couldn’t serve-receive consistently enough to ever really get into an offensive rhythm. The Lady Buffs have now gone their last three Regionals without winning a set, and Burns said her team must improve its conditioning to have a better showing in future postseasons.
“We have got to get quicker to the ball,” Burns said. “We have to get quicker to our defense and transitioning back-and-forth, moving across the net, getting up. Those kinds of things, you can’t do well without conditioning.”
With the season-ending loss, McAlester finished 5-18. Tahlequah beat Coweta in the regional championship, 3-2, to advance to the 5A state tournament on Oct. 18.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.