Posted: Aug 28, 2019
(By Drew Ellis - email@example.com; @ellisdrew on Twitter)
The OAA Red volleyball race has come down to three teams in recent years – Stoney Creek, Clarkston and Lake Orion.
On Tuesday, the Oxford Wildcats officially threw in their hat to be a contender for the league title.
Taking part in the Notre Dame Prep quad, the Wildcats earned wins over both Lake Orion and Clarkston, while also picking up a win over the host Irish.
"They played very well and they played very composed in some tight matches," Oxford coach Brian Kim said. "It just goes to show that the girls have great leadership skills no matter which six players on the floor. They are doing an awesome job so far."
Oxford is coming off the Lake Orion Tournament last Saturday where it took top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy to three sets in bracket play. On Tuesday, the Wildcats opened with a 25-21, 29-27 victory over Notre Dame Prep and followed that with a 25-23, 25-20 win over Clarkston. The final match saw the Wildcats edge Lake Orion, the 2018 Division 1 state champ, 25-23, 25-19.
In 2018, Oxford wasn't much of a factor in the OAA Red race, putting up just two victories in conference play. This year's Wildcats team brings a lot of size to the floor and is scrappy on defense. Senior libero Madelyn Weiss puts in a lot of effort to keep the ball in play for Oxford's deep hitters. Senior outside hitter Sydney Richter, junior outside Molly Miller and senior right side Peyton Krajcarski each had their moments in Tuesday's quad. The Wildcats also have a pair of long junior middle hitters in Julia Blair and Emma LaBarge.
"Every year we go into the season with high expectations and this year was no different," Kim said. "It's been nice to see the girls really gel so quickly. It's got us excited about the potential for this team. We just have to keep working hard. The girls are putting in the effort in the gym. If that continues, I am confident good things will continue to happen for them."
Lake Orion went 2-1 on the day, as the Dragons earned a 25-18, 25-15 win over Clarkston and a 17-25, 25-22, 25-21 win over Notre Dame Prep. The Dragons showed a big improvement from Saturday, where they had a quick exit from their own tournament.
"Our highs were much higher today than they were on Saturday," Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda said. "When we were playing well today, we were really clicking in a lot of areas. On Saturday, those stretches weren't lasting very long and I knew we were capable of better than what we showed. It's a positive step forward, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us."
The Dragons graduated some key seniors in outside hitter Paige Briggs, setter Wren Macaulay and libero Ciara Livingway. During the summer, would-be senior outside Sydney Smith moved out of state, dealing the Dragons another blow. On Tuesday, Lake Orion was led by freshman hitter Nina Horning, as well as junior outside Taylor Buckiewicz and junior middles Kendall Robertson and Reagan Goeke.
Clarkston managed a win over Notre Dame Prep on the day, ending their quad with a 25-15, 25-20 win over the Irish. The Wolves were playing in their first matches of the season on Tuesday.
"Part of our struggles were just working out some kinks to open the season, but it's hard to work out those kinks when you are playing really good teams," Clarkston coach Kelly Pinner said. "We made a lot of unforced errors against Lake Orion and Oxford and I think we just came into the last match with Notre Dame and had a different mentality. We picked up our game defensively and just played better all around. We've got some great hitters to work with, so as we improve on our passing, we can put together some nice runs."
The Wolves are somewhat young this year, but will be without one of their best hitters in 2019 as junior middle Alana Watlington suffered a knee injury before the season. The team still has some experience at the net in third-year junior outside hitter Claire Nowicki.
Tuesday didn't go the way the Irish were hoping, but it's a learning experience for Betty Wroubel's young team. The 2018 Division 2 runner-up lost Miss Volleyball winner Madeline Chinn and Miss Volleyball finalist Natalie Risi. This year's Notre Dame Prep roster consists of two seniors, one junior, eight sophomores and two freshmen.
On Saturday, the Irish were able to open their season by winning the Linden Tournament, but Wroubel knows this year will feature some inconsistent play.
"We are really young. We are sophomore-heavy and today we played sophomoric," Wroubel said. "Saturday we did some great things, but today we didn't do great things and that is usually what happens when you have a lot of young kids playing. We are going to get a lot of ups and downs this year, but if we can improve a little each day, that is what will be most important."