Prep volleyball: Perhaps the team to beat, Timberwolves open strong

Clay Horning / The Transcript

Norman North volleyball coach Stephanie Kane directs her team during a first-set timeout Tuesday night at the North Gym. The Timberwolves topped Deer Creek, the team that ended their season a year ago.

A year ago, Deer Creek topped Norman North in the first round of the Class 6A state volleyball tournament.

Afterward, the Timberwolves said goodbye to their setter, Maci Milligan. Also, upon being eliminated, Deer Creek said goodbye to its front row of hitters.

Tuesday, the two programs opened their varsity seasons against one another and, though the first set wasn’t great viewing for either side’s fans, the second half of the second set forward was pretty terrific high school volleyball, especially for opening night.

North prevailed 3-1 (26-24, 21-25, 21-19, 25-21), and perhaps the T-Wolves are just getting started. Like, just maybe, North is the team to beat.

“I’ve had some coaches tell me that this is the year for us,” North coach Stephanie Kane said.

Kane’s not the type to go around saying such things herself, yet nor is she inclined to run away from it.

North has been right there several times in the past, reaching the state tourney six times in seven seasons under Kane’s direction, twice reaching the state championship match.

Though Milligan is gone, three different setters — senior Emma Vance, sophomore Chloe Upthegrove, freshman Riley Roberts — all have Kane’s confidence.

Tuesday, all played and all played in meaningful moments, too.

Roberts got the start and led with 23 assists to go with 12 digs, second best on the night to teammate and senior co-captain Jordan Dooty’s 15.

“They haven’t shown any signs of not knowing what to do,” Kane said of the setters. “They’re not scared, they’re not nervous, they’re not doubtful.”

The setters’ cups may runneth over, given that experienced hitters Jacqueline Wright, Sydney Spencer and Lari Migliorino are all back, too.

Helping to set the T-Wolves up beyond this season, Wright’s the only senior among the group, Spencer’s a junior and Migliorino a sophomore.

Additionally, if one freshman beyond Roberts made serious opening-night waves, it was Olivia Vance, Emma’s freshman sister, who delivered five kills to go with six from Migliorino and nine from Wright.

The Vance sisters are a windfall to North’s program, both having transferred into the district after attending school in Kansas last year.

The T-Wolves’ key may be focus.

“I think we have a lot of talent on this team and what we’re working on right now is bringing it all together,” said Wright, who along with senior Jaden Chapel-Morgan fills North's captains list.

That was applicable to Tuesday, too.

The first set was defined by points given away more than points won.

The Antlers found their way in the middle of the second set, taking a 24-17 edge. That’s when the T-Wolves found their game, winning four straight points before Deer Creek closed out the set to even the match.

Strong play from both teams continued the rest of the way.

“I thought we did a good job of working through it,” Kane said. “I thought the last 10 to 15 points were really our best, energy wise.”

Of those last 15 points, North won nine of them, going from a tight 17-15 edge to winning the set and match comfortably.

Kane believes her team can keep from getting ahead of itself. It may be the favorite to win it all, but it will have to do it a match at a time.

Wright sees a big picture.

“To be that team, we all have to know our roles and focus on what we’ve seen in the past,” she said. “We’ve been to state, we know what it takes to get there, we know what it takes to beat a winning team.”

One night in, North can hardly complain. It beat the team that ended its season a year ago.

It’s a good place to start.