By BEN JOHNSON
Amanda Milnick had no idea what to expect. She was relocating to Tahlequah from nearly 1,400 miles away.
She was all set to embark on her sophomore year in high school in Yuma, Ariz. But then her father landed a job in eastern Oklahoma, meaning Milnick would be trading in the southwestern desert for the lush hills of Green Country in Oklahoma.
Luckily for Milnick, she had volleyball to occupy her time once she moved to the Sooner State. She still, though, was a little gun-shy at first.
“My first thought at first was that it was overwhelming at first to come in and see how good (Tahlequah’s players) were,” Milnick said. “It’s definitely a few steps up from what I came from. I was worried about where I would fit in.”
Once Tahlequah coach Don Ogden saw what Milnick could provide, she didn’t have any problem finding her spot among the roster.
At that point, it was all about using Milnick’s skill set at the right position.
“I thought it’d be a lot harder than it really was,” Milnick said, recalling back to her first few days of playing with her new Tahlequah teammates.
“I kind of just came in and went where I was needed, and that’s where I found my home.”
Milnick, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, quickly made an impact for Tahlequah at middle blocker. She became a menace at the net along with Alli George, Gillian Tinnin and Cassie Goodnight.
“What we liked about Amanda was that she obviously had a lot of volleyball in her background,” Tahlequah coach Don Ogden said. “She has a good, competitive nature about her, and she’s a good athlete. She’s left-handed, so that’s a dimension that allows us to be able to attack more from the right side more than we probably would have been able to do. What that does is gives us more things that other teams have to prepare for.”
Tahlequah had come up short of the Class 5A state tournament the past three years, losing in the regional tournament finals each time. But with the addition of Milnick, the Class 5A No. 8 Lady Tigers were able to outlast Coweta 3-2 (22-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-25, 15-12) in this year’s regional finals and punch their ticket to the state tournament.
“We had a good group,” Ogden said, “but she’s been able to come in and be well-accepted. Did we see her coming? No. Are we glad she’s here? Yes.”
Tahlequah’s first appearance in the state tournament since 2009 will come today when the Lady Tigers take on second-ranked Lincoln Christian in a 4:30 match at Charles Page High School in Sand Springs.
“We’re going to have to make sure everything is right on,” Milnick said of the preparations for Lincoln Christian (23-9). “We’ll have to limit our mistakes and make sure our serving is down.”
When Milnick joined Tahlequah before the season started, she was informed of Tahlequah’s last state tournament appearance, so making it back seemed like like a longshot at first. But as the wins piled up, it became a much more obtainable goal.
“When we lost for the first time, we were like, ‘OK, we’re going to have to step it up a lot, so we can make it,’” Milnick said. “But now that we’re here, it’s like ‘wow!”
As for Milnick’s change in residency, she said it was a challenge to up and leave right before her sophomore year. But having volleyball to fall back on made it that much more manageable.
“That’s kind of where I make all my friends is playing volleyball,” said Milnick, who also plays basketball and runs track. “I thought it would be a lot harder to transition over to here, and I was kind of iffy about moving out here because I didn’t know how people acted and stuff. But once I got out here, I really enjoyed it and it was easy making friends.”
Class 5A state tournament
Friday (at Sand Springs)
Game 1: No. 1 Heritage Hall (19-5) vs. No. 10 Edison (22-25), noon.
Game 2: No. 6 Deer Creek (28-6) vs. No. 4 Victory Christian (30-9), 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 3 Christian Heritage (29-9) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma Bible Academy (20-16), 3 p.m.
Game 4: No. 8 Tahlequah (33-7) vs. No. 2 Lincoln Christian (23-9), 4:30 p.m.
Saturday (at Bixby)
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 9 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 10:45 a.m.
Game 7: Championship match, 4:15 p.m.