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Oklahoma 6A-5A volleyball state tournaments taking place later this week

5A champion Mount Saint Mary now goes for 6A gold; Bishop McGuinness favored in 5A

James Ward was a little concerned. 

The longtime Mount Saint Mary’s volleyball coach had watched his team win back-to-back 5A state volleyball championships, but was slightly worried about his team’s motivation heading into the 2023 season. 

Despite having a talent-filled roster, Ward knew if his players weren’t inspired to play, their title run could end with a thud. Then, out of the blue, the Rockets were handed a gift by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association in the form of Rule 14 which stated a ‘school would move up a classification from its average attendance if it finished in the final eight within a sport in three or more of the previous five years.’

Mount Saint Mary’s volleyball team more than fit that criteria and was moved up to Class 6A right before the season began.

“If we had stayed in 5A, I was really concerned about our motivation levels,” Ward said. “We won the last two, and it kind of starts feeling like a routine.

"But the best thing that could have happened was us moving into 6A and just getting them refocused; new energy and new goals. I think it's really been a great move.”

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Because of that move when the Oklahoma state volleyball championships kick into action this week, there will be a unique situation taking place. In Class 6A, there will be a pair of defending champions going after the same trophy.

Class 6A, which is the largest OSSAA classification, will feature both Edmond Memorial and Mount Saint Mary’s in the tournament bracket. The Bulldogs won the 6A championship in 2022 and they are not ready to relinquish their hold on the crown.

“Our team is focused and ready,” said Bulldogs coach Natalie Murray. “Last year, we were trying to achieve something none of the players had done.

"Trying to replicate it is another story. The mindset is to focus on the fundamentals and trust each other.”

With an enrollment (ADM) sitting at 362, Mount Saint Mary’s is the smallest school in the field by far. Conversely, Broken Arrow is the largest at 3,500.

Despite that difference, the Rockets may have the most talent. With Gia McGrew, Liv Ward, Ella Hale and Ally Fees, to name a few, Mount Saint Mary’s has no problem playing above their weight, so to speak.

They've got a new set of goals.

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“I have been in 6A state before, they haven't," James Ward said. "The one thing I told them is that any team that goes to 6A state could win it. There are no easy matches. You've got to be on your game all the way through three matches.

"They are kind of really focused in that area and then they have some personal goals. It's the first time for a Mount St. Mary's team to ever go to 6A state and if you can go win 6A state, you've really done something.”

But Memorial isn’t coming to the tournament empty-handed, either. Despite losing a strong senior class from its 2022 title run, the Bulldogs have found a way to replenish their ranks and stay in the hunt.

“I expect our sophomore middle blockers, Annie Hopkins and Lolufe Adediji, to shine at this level,” Murray said. “Both players have ambitions of playing Division I volleyball and this is the kind of stage they are made for.

"But you can expect our setters, seniors Madi Hathaway and Kat Rowe, to run the show. They are experienced and talented. But to be honest, I expect every player on the team to have big moments.”

Edmond Memorial players in action during a recent match.

Edmond Memorial players in action during a recent match.

While the Rockets (37-3) and Bulldogs (27-5) are the defending champions, heading into the tournament, the No. 1 ranking belongs to Edmond Deer Creek (29-5). However, the Antlers are 0-3 against Memorial this season.

The rest of the 6A field includes No. 5 Broken Arrow (25-9), No. 8 Edmond North (21-12), No. 2 Jenks (30-5), No. 6 Bishop Kelley (21-11) and No. 7 Owasso (21-15).

With Mount Saint Mary now in Class 6A, that left Class 5A to crown a new champion this season. The odds-on favorite when the season began was Bishop McGuinness, who lost to the Rockets in last season's title match.

The Irish (28-4) have played like they know the crown belongs to them this go-around. Of their four losses, two have come against Mount Saint Mary and Community Christian, which won the 4A title last week.

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No. 1 Bishop McGuinness has one volleyball title to its resume. It came exactly 20 years ago in 2003.

However, No. 2 Lincoln Christian (21-13) has taken home five in its program history. That includes four out of the last five.

However, they took place in smaller classifications. Like MSM, they were moved up a level this season.

“Same song, different verse. Many of our girls have played on this stage before,” Lincoln Christian coach Deidra Rader said. “That doesn't mean there aren't inevitable nerves, but they are locking arms with the underclassmen that haven't been here before and it's beautiful to sit back and witness the passing of the baton from year in and year out.”

Despite losing a player to injury a few weeks ago, Lincoln Christian is still loaded for another title run.

“We have three seniors that are six-rotation players. Paiton Tuggle has started since her freshman year and was the 4A state tournament MVP,” Rader said. “Our libero, Jaden Katsis, has recently moved back to our outside hitter position and has really gotten in her groove. She flies like the wind and jumps out of the gym.

"Our middle block, Micalah Reed, has taken a note from her freshman year when she was a setter for the ninth-grade team and is setting when she is in the back row. What versatility.”

Along with Bishop McGuinness and Lincoln Christian, the Class 5A bracket includes No. 8 Sapulpa (27-13), No. 5 Victory Christan (19-9), No. 3 Tulsa Booker T. Washington (25-11), No. 4 Regent Prep (25-10), No. 6 Glenpool (32-5) and No. 7 Claremore (28-7).

Both the 6A and 5A tournaments will be held in Tulsa at Union High School's UMAC starting Thursday with first-round action.

The championship matches are scheduled for Saturday. Class 5A will play at 11 a.m., and 6A will take the court at 2:30 p.m.