Mount St. Mary printed up T-shirts for the Rockets' inaugural trip to the Class 4A state volleyball tournament with a simple message — “The Legacy Starts With Us.”
The second-ranked Rockets might have been state-tournament rookies but they played like poised veterans on Friday during their first-round match, dispatching No. 11 Catoosa 25-20, 25-19, 25-18 at Westmoore High School.
Mount St. Mary (27-8) advanced to Saturday's 1:45 p.m. semifinal against longtime rival Oklahoma Christian School. No. 10 OCS (28-7) beat fourth-ranked Sequoyah-Tahlequah 25-18, 25-20, 25-18. The Saints and Mount St. Mary have split a pair of matches this season.
In the noon semifinal, top-ranked Elgin (28-5), the defending champion, will face No. 7 Rejoice Christian (26-13) of Owasso. Elgin downed Verdigris while Rejoice Christian beat Weatherford in first-round matches.
The title match will immediately follow the semifinals, at 3:45 p.m.
Mount St. Mary featured a balanced offensive attack against Catoosa (22-19), which was making its ninth state-tournament appearance in the last 10 years. Five Rockets — Madison Rubino, Adrienne Berry, Mandy Martincich, Sarah Jekel and Jill Ruhl — had at least five kills, with Rubino leading the way with nine.
“We have a really good setter in Sarah,” Rubino said. “She really works on getting it to every girl. Every girl has a chance to put the ball down and it's great.”
The Rockets trailed only once, at 5-4 in the first set. They scored five straight points to seize control, although they never quite pulled away. Catoosa pulled within 22-20, but Mount St. Mary closed the set with a kill by Berry, a service ace by libero Jordan Hagood and a kill by Rubino.
Consecutive kills by Berry, Ruhl and Jekel early in the second set spurred the Rockets to a quick lead they never relinquished. Catoosa was within 13-12 in the third set before kills by Ruhl and Jekel, followed by a net violation on the Indians, gave the Rockets a four-point cushion. Berry closed out the set and match with a kill.
“I was really nervous at first, but once our team came together, we started getting excited and all that nervousness changed to excitement,” Rubino said.
Added coach Mary Jekel: “I always tell them the difference between excitement and nerves is preparation and they showed it today.”
OCS seizes control early
OCS earned its rematch with a surprisingly easy win over Sequoyah-Tahlequah (31-7) in a showdown of teams that entered the tournament on a roll. Sequoyah-Tahlequah, which opened the season with 19 straight wins, had won 11 of 13 before Friday, while the Saints had won 14 of their last 16.
OCS seized control with a 7-0 run in the first set, turning a 9-5 deficit into a 12-9 lead. Rebecca Harville had two service aces during the run while Laney Davidson had three of her match-high 14 kills. The Saints scored the first four points of the second set and never trailed, then used an 8-1 run in the third set to go ahead 13-6.
OCS coach Michelle Cooley credited Addie Aman and Kristen Nupson with neutralizing one of the Indians' top hitters, Audrey Ballou. The OCS duo proved effective on blocks, limiting Ballou to nine kills. Jhonett Cookson led Sequoyah with 11 kills.
Aman finished with nine kills for the Saints.
“The girls have been jelling really well for the past month,” Cooley said. “We knew that we could compete with anyone we faced up against, because they're playing so well together as a team.”
Elgin rolls past Verdigris
Elgin rolled to a 25-13, 25-15, 25-10 win over unranked Verdigris (20-21) in a rematch of one of last year's semifinals, also won by the Owls. The duo of Jentry Holt and Kaitlyn Holmgren led the Owls with 17 and 13 kills, respectively, as Verdigris proved unable to effectively defend against Elgin's size.
Elgin scored the first seven and the final seven points of the opening set, surviving a 10-1 run by the Cardinals along the way. In the final set, the Owls also jumped to a 7-0 lead and never looked back.
Kellyn Stinnett and Jade Graves led Verdigris with three kills each.
In the other first-round match, Brittany Hadlock had 19 kills, Katie Wasinger had 16 and Serena Nicholls added nine as No. 7-ranked Rejoice Christian repelled a rally by No. 5 Weatherford to win 25-23, 25-8, 23-25, 25-19.
Madison Eyster finished with nine kills for Weatherford (23-11).