It’s been nearly a decade since McAlester’s girls’ volleyball state championship. More recent Lady Buffs volleyball seasons have been characterized by numerous regular-season losses and three-set sweeps out of regional tournaments.
But this year’s starting six features five seniors tired of quick postseason exits. And with new coach Sara Reeder at the helm, this might be the year Lady Buffs volleyball takes a step back towards its mid-2000s glory.
“As a new head coach, my goal is to improve the program and build on the basis that’s already there,” Reeder said Tuesday. “Heck yeah, I’d love to get out of Regionals.”
Reeder said 24 girls are playing high school volleyball this season, “and we have great numbers at the junior high too, so it’s going to be building for the future.”
Like a point guard in basketball or a quarterback in football, the setter is essential to a volleyball team’s offense. Emily Taylor was the only setter last year, forcing the Lady Buffs to use a “5-1” defensive alignment that took away the team’s right-side hitting.
Sophomore Kacie Johnson gives the Lady Buffs two setters this year, allowing a “6-2” alignment that opens the offense up to more angles of attack. Reeder said Johnson will start in the back row, meaning she’ll be the Lady Buffs’ primary setter through their first few rotations.
“Kacie has worked really hard this summer,” Reeder said. “She’s gone to a camp in Tulsa. She played club ball last year. She’s working towards her future nonstop and she’s grown so much.”
Taylor emerged as a solid setter for the Lady Buffs as a junior last season. Her height makes her useful as a right-side hitter and blocker in the front tow, then she’ll take over as setter when she rotates to the back row..
“Her volleyball brain is growing,” Reeder said of Taylor.
“Intellectually on the court, she’s gotten stronger throughout the summer.”
Whatever use the Lady Buffs get out of their right-side hitters, their left-side — also called “outside” — hitters will likely carry much of the scoring load. Senior outsides Preziosita Crawford and Emily “Breeze” McLaughlin have started on varsity since sophomore year.
“They both have great verticals,” Reeder said of her outsides. “They are able to see the court, and they have power when they connect with the ball.
“Any outside hitter, if you’re timing is there, then you’re able to have a lot more power behind the ball.”
Jessica Everett, another senior, will start as middle hitter. Reeder said middles have to be the most conditioned players on the team, as they have to be able to block at all three positions along the net.
That includes having to block by themselves in the middle.
“That’s something we’ve been working on a lot, is just when to jump, when to block, when to squeeze, when to penetrate, when to play defense or offense when the ball’s close on the net,” Reeder said.
Clarissa Salinas, the last senior starter, will play opposite Everett as a back-row defensive specialist called the “libero.”
“She’s very quick and very calm, which is what you need in a libero,” Reeder said of Salinas. “You need somebody that’s quick, can move all over the court, but they don’t freak out when they make one mistake.”
Liberos can’t play in the front row, so when Everett rotates into the back row Salinas will have to be replaced by a second middle hitter. Reeder said that second middle spot remains an open competition, but junior Cheyenne Briggs might have the inside track to win it.
Cidney McMurtrey, another libero, is the sixth senior on the team. Reeder said the team picked captains Wednesday.
Timing and communication, Reeder said, will be the keys to McAlester’s volleyball success this season.
“They’re a very visual and analytical team,” Reeder said. “They think things through so much, and sometimes we just need them to react.”
Because volleyball has taken a back seat in recent years behind more successful McAlester fall sports teams such as football and softball, Reeder said the volleyball booster club is planning contests to try to increase attendance at games. She said the students who show the most spirit at games this season could have lunch brought to them at school the next day.
McAlester’s volleyball season starts today at 3 p.m. at Broken Arrow. The Lady Buffs will be at the Tahlequah Tournament on Friday and Saturday, then play at Booker T. Washington in Tulsa on Tuesday.
The Lady Buffs’ first home game will be Aug. 22 against Piedmont.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.