The Mount St. Mary volleyball team will be entering uncharted territory on Friday when it takes the floor for the Class 4A state tournament at Westmoore, the first trip for a program that dates back to the 1970s.
But at least for a few Rockets, it won't be a completely new experience. Players like Adrienne Berry and Jordan Hagood have been to state in basketball and other sports, and their experience is a valuable tool for second-ranked Mount St. Mary, which faces Catoosa in the tournament's opening game at noon Friday.
“They've been telling us a lot about what it's like to play in a state tournament, and helping us prepare mentally for the game” junior middle hitter Madison Rubino said. “It's nice to have that kind of leadership to get us prepared and get us excited, because they know what it feels like.”
The Rockets will be prepared for the competition level, having played 4A's top-ranked team, Elgin, four times, beating them twice. In addition, they faced multiple ranked opponents from larger classes.
“In big games, a lot of times we step it up and play our best,” Hagood said. “I just hope we can keep doing that.”
Mount St. Mary joins Oklahoma Christian as the only metro-area teams in the eight-team field, and the two could meet up in Saturday's semifinals.
Tenth-ranked OCS upset Cache in regionals to earn its spot in the field. Mount St. Mary defeated Bethany to earn its historic first trip to state.
But getting there wasn't a short-term accomplishment in the team's first year under coach Mary Jekel, who credits the vision of former coach Kenneth Bethune and assistant coach Bo Bedford for laying the foundation for the program over the previous four years.
“We started looking for the athletes within the school who didn't play club, but were good athletes — some of them played basketball — and we asked them to give us a try,” said Jekel, who was a freshman coach under Bethune. “We brought them in and they developed through the program.
“Kenneth deserves a lot of credit, because he knows a lot about volleyball and really began to build this program.”
Juniors Sarah Jekel and Mandy Martincich play key roles on a fairly young team that expects to have a wild cheering section at Westmoore this weekend.
School was canceled for Friday so students are free to attend the match.
“The school is getting pumped, and we're getting pumped,” Sarah Jekel said. “Everybody's gonna be there and we're all excited. This is our first time at state. We want to win and we're preparing to win.”