By BEN JOHNSON
A huge gasp of air came tumbling out of the TMAC a week ago. It was Tahlequah’s volleyball team breathing a collective sigh of relief.
“They were tickled, but they were kind of like, ‘whew, glad that’s over,’” Tahlequah coach Don Ogden said, talking about his team’s 3-2 (22-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-25, 15-12) triumph over Coweta last Tuesday.
“It was such a back-and-forth match and neither team could get a big lead. It was a grind, but it was another sign of how mentally tough this group has been.”
With the victory over Class 5A No. 9 Coweta, eighth-ranked Tahlequah punched its ticket to the 5A state tournament on Friday in the Tulsa area. It’ll be the first time that Tahlequah has appeared in the state tournament since 2009.
“It’s an honor for us to go back to the state tournament,” Tahlequah senior Kalie Champlain said.
When Tahlequah (33-7) arrives at Charles Page High School in Sand Springs on Friday, it’ll prepare to face second-ranked Lincoln Christian (23-9). The match is slated to begin at 4:30 p.m., and it’ll be the final of four quarterfinal matches on the day.
Top-ranked Heritage Hall will take on Edison in the opening match at noon. Deer Creek and Victory Christian will square off, and Christian Heritage and Oklahoma Bible Academy will play one another for the fifth time this season.
Tahlequah and Deer Creek will represent the only two public school teams in the field, while all others carry private or preparatory school credentials.
“We’re tickled with the honor of representing the Tahlequah community at the state tournament,” Ogden said. “We obviously know it’ll be difficult because of all the private schools that are in the field...but we’ll just go play our game.”
Entering the state tournament having won its last eight matches, Tahlequah sports a 3-6 mark against other 5A state tournament teams — Lincoln Christian not being one of those teams. Two of the three victories came against Edison.
Lincoln Christian will embark on state tournament play having won its last four matches, including two 3-0 victories over Memorial and Collinsville in the regional round.
“Tough, tough, tough, tough, tough,” Ogden said of his first-round opponent and the entire 5A field at the state tournament. “...Extremely good field as always, and it’s heavily influenced by private schools, which makes it even tougher.”
Class 5A state tournament
Friday (at Sand Springs)
Game 1: Heritage Hall vs. Edison, noon.
Game 2: Deer Creek vs. Victory Christian, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: Christian Heritage vs. Oklahoma Bible Academy, 3 p.m.
Game 4: Tahlequah vs. Lincoln Christian, 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.