Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

August 27, 2012

OU volleyball knocks off Missouri State

TAHLEQUAH — NORMAN — Ever wanted to catch something on the ground floor? Well, consider Oklahoma volleyball.

Though coach Santiago Restrepo has built a program that’s been to the NCAA tournament five of the last six seasons, including the last three, the Sooners are rebuilding in 2012.

Perhaps very quickly.

Restrepo started three freshmen in Friday night’s season opener against Missouri State. Part of the Nike Invitational that continues today at Howard McCasland Field House, the Sooners prevailed 3-1 (25-19, 24-26, 25-17, 25-23) over the Bears.

A fine start, Missouri State was an NCAA tournament team last season and has been to seven Big Dances since 2003.

“This is a very good team we beat tonight,” said Restrepo, who was looking at the post match numbers and found a couple of statistics he really liked.

The Sooners finished with a .292 hitting percentage — .300 is considered fantastic — and only eight attacking errors. Missouri State hit .196 and committed 32 errors. The Bears stayed close on the strength of 62 kills, 12 more than OU.

“For all the years that I’ve been here, to start at this high level,” Restrepo said, “to be hitting almost .300 as a team, it’s pretty incredible.”

The Sooners got 17 kills from senior Morgan Reynolds and nine from juniors Sallie McLaurin and Keila Rodriguez, though there is more to the story.

McLaurin was an honorable mention All-American last season and she and Reynolds are both preseason All-Big 12 picks. Rodriguez, though, hardly played her first two years in the program, and the young woman setting all of them up was Julia Doyle, playing her fiery first match as a Sooner.

“They helped me a lot, they’re great, the older girls. They’re fantastic,” Doyle said. “They can carry a lot of the load if I get stressed out or get too nervous.”

The Sooners clearly struggled in moments. The Bears ran off a string of 9 of 10 points in the first set, scored 6 of 7 points to begin the second and 5 of 6 to end it, and went from 10-6 down to 17-14 up in the fourth. Still, more often than not, the Sooners would rise up, stem the charge and pass them by.

“I think we just came out and showed what we’ve got,” McLaurin said.

OU was never better than at the very end. Down 17-14 and 19-16 in the fourth set, the Sooners ran off 5 of 6 points to take control and didn’t let go. Nine of the last 11 points they scored came on kills from Rodriguez, Reynolds, McLaurin and freshman Madison Ward, an in-state product from Cache, who finished with six kills.

The remaining freshman starter, Kiera Hoist, also added six kills for the Sooners.

Missouri State’s Christine McCartney was the most dynamic hitter on the floor and led everybody with 18 kills. She also led everybody with 11 hitting errors.

The Sooners, even as the score see-sawed, were far more consistent.

OU can add to its success at noon today against Western Michigan, before meeting Tulsa at 7 p.m. in the Nike Invitational finale.

It was the Golden Hurricane that knocked OU out of last year’s NCAA tournament.

“We can still improve,” McLaurin said, “but I thought we did pretty well tonight.”

That goes without saying.

“I’m hoping that we can continue the trend,” Restrepo said.

After one match, it’s a good trend.

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