EDMOND — Edmond Memorial has been one of the steadiest volleyball programs in the state the last few years, and just looking at the results, this season appeared no different.
A 31-5 record and a state runner-up finish, coming just a few point shy of a Class 6A title.
But internally, it wasn't exactly smooth. Long-time coach Edgar Miraku left to become the coach at Central Oklahoma after last season, and his replacement, Natalie Murray, stepped away after she gave birth in mid-September. Amanda Ayers, who played on Memorial's state title team in 2010, finished out the season as the coach.
But with all the shuffling, the players never got flustered. That's where McKenna Qualls comes in. The senior outside hitter anchored the Bulldogs' deep playoff run and helped hold the team together amid multiple coaching changes.
“The key was teamwork,” said Qualls, The Oklahoman's All-City Volleyball Player of the Year. “If the team had any kind of drama, it couldn't work. But we had a really good connection on the court, and from day one, we seemed to click together. We jived really well.”
Qualls was one of three senior starters on an otherwise young team that pushed champion Tulsa Kelley to the brink in the title match, ultimately losing 25-13, 12-25, 27-25, 20-25, 12-15.
Down the stretch, when Ayers was coaching the team, Qualls had to remind herself that it wasn't her close friend, but her coach on the sideline.
“It was kind of weird that a girl I played with was coaching me,” Qualls said with a laugh. “I would have to remind myself, OK, this is coach Amanda, not ex-teammate Amanda.”
Qualls, who has signed with Oral Roberts, says the state tournament in October will always stick with her.
“It was a good memory and a bad memory,” she said. “It showed me where I am as a player. I know the level of intensity I can play at now. I feel like each year, I surpassed that level and I've gotten better mentally and physically.
“I felt a lot of improvement this year, and hopefully I'll surpass that next year, too. We'll see.”