By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — It’s not supposed to be this easy when it’s Broken Arrow on the other side of the net.
Then again, after one season on the outside looking in at the Class 6A state volleyball tournament, Norman North is an improved team and the east-side Tigers are not what they’ve been.
The Timberwolves improved to 11-9 on the season by way of Thursday night’s 3-0 (25-9, 25-22, 25-22) sweep, one that didn’t feel near as close as the last two sets, by the numbers, turned out to be.
“Our offense was able to put the ball down when we need to,” said McKayla Benner, who’s been an offensive force for the T-Wolves going on four seasons. “We were just doing our job out there.”
Broken Arrow made it easy on North right out of the gate, failing to receive serve time and again.
In the final two sets, the Tigers offered a modicum of resistance, while North struggled to exert urgency.
That led to the Tigers playing the T-Wolves within 17-18 in the second set, before North ran off five points, then gave up five of six points before claiming the set. In the final set, it led to the Tigers climbing back into the set after trailing 18-11 and 20-13.
Those lapses and North’s ability to eradicate them going forward could be the difference between a reasonably good season and a state tourney trip for the T-Wolves.
“We’ve come a long way … now I think we’re in the flow of things and have a pretty good chance of going,” senior setter Hayley Reed said. “The only thing stopping us right now is our mental focus and staying consistent, just pushing through.”
Benner was the most exciting player on the court for either team, finishing with 12 kills and four blocks. Reed was equally effective in a different role, setting the T-Wolves up with 27 assists and getting credit for seven kills herself, only one of which came on a full swing.
Madison Brammer added seven kills and Olivia Canida finished with five aces.
While the T-Wolves’ record may not seem like state tourney material, their schedule might offer a different conclusion.
Seven of North’s nine losses have come to seventh-ranked Jenks (twice), top-ranked Edmond Santa Fe, third-ranked Bishop Kelley, fourth-ranked Edmond Memorial, Heritage Hall, the No. 1 team in Class 5A, and Cascia Hall, the No. 4 team in Class 5A.
The remaining two losses have both come to No. 11 Southmoore.
The T-Wolves have a victory over sixth-ranked Owasso, ninth-ranked Bartlesville, 12th-ranked Stillwater and 13th-ranked Westmoore. Also, they took a set off Bishop Kelley, a set off Jenks and pushed Santa Fe to a 27-25 third set.
They’ve made it happen despite injuries that have sidelined or limited Benner, Sarah Shelden and Kate Lefler.
First-year coach Stephanie Kane isn’t sure the Class 6A coaches, which have penciled North in at No. 10, are paying enough attention.
“I think some coaches don’t take into consideration who we play, or who some other teams play,” she said, “who their victories are against and when they are.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the T-Wolves. In addition to a tournament in Stillwater, the rest of their regular season includes a trips to Santa Fe and Edmond North, Nos. 1 and 2 in the state, and Jenks, McGuinness and a regular-season ending Crosstown Clash at the North Gym.
“We just need to keep going as we are,” Benner said. “We’re on a really good path.”
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