Tahlequah will have plenty of experience on its side in 2020 on the volleyball court.
The Lady Tigers, who began offseason practices on July 15 and had a two-hour session Monday afternoon at the Tahlequah Multipurpose Activity Center, have four seniors and three juniors on this year’s roster that will play big roles under head coach Don Ogden.
Tahlequah, who has to replace two seniors from last year in Kloe Bowin and Ella Scearce, returns key parts in seniors Josie Foster, Natalie Porter, Morgan Pack and Maggie Brewer. Juniors this year include Lydia McAlvain, Lola Brownfield and Siloam Springs, Arkansas move-in Dorothy Swearingen.
Ogden likes what he’s seen since the start of offseason workouts.
“I’ve been very pleased with the effort, enjoying the turnout,” Ogden said following Monday’s practice. “We’re probably sitting with about 26 total and four seniors, so it’s good numbers to work with. We’re really happy with where we’re at.”
Ogden said he and his team are taking things a day at a time and enjoying the process despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
“We’ve kind of gone into this knowing that we need to enjoy every practice every day because you just don’t know when the plug could be pulled on not being able to come back,” Ogden said. “We’re just approaching it day by day and we’re trying to have good solid practices and then having as much of an element of fun as we can.”
McAlvain is the centerpiece as the team’s setter. She recorded 716 assists, 174 digs, 122 kills and 50 serve aces in 2019. She also has two years of experience as a starter.
“The biggest thing that we feel pretty comfortable with and I don’t mind giving the keys to is Lydia as our setter,” Ogden said. “She’s had two solid years of experience. She’s now moving into her junior year and obviously volleyball life is a lot easier with an accomplished setter. I think we’re going to surround her with some good hitters. We feel good about Lydia having the keys to run us as our setter.”
Foster and Porter are also valuable returnees. Foster logged a team-high 174 kills last season to go along with a team-best 225 digs and 41 serve aces. Porter finished with 142 kills, 148 digs, 89 assists and posted a team-high 66 serve aces.
“Our experience comes from Natalie Porter and Josie Foster because they have pretty well been on the court now for three years and it’s now their senior year,” Ogden said. “They’re both what we call hybrids, which means they’re going to play some middle and some outside. They’re both good servers. Natalie is a great jump server, and Josie is just a good solid server.”
Foster said she’s learned how to become a leader from previous standout seniors in Brooke Thomas and Bowin.
“All of them have been really good leaders and they’ve taught us that no matter what to just work hard,” Foster said. “I’m excited to be a leader this year because I have a lot to share with the younger players and teach them.”
“The chemistry on our team is a lot better than it’s been the past couple of years,” Foster added. “We’re all working pretty hard together. I want to make state this year because we haven’t been there the past few years. I think it’s going to be a really good season because overall the skill level is a lot higher, more mature than it has been in the last couple of years. We’ve got a lot more older people on the team, and I think that’s going to help a lot.”
Pack collected 45 digs, 16 assists and four serve aces as a junior, and Brewer is returning after missing all of last year with concussion issues.
“Morgan is a DS and plays some back row for us,” Ogden said. “Her passing has improved greatly and we’re looking for good things out of her in the passing area. Maggie played for us quite a bit as a sophomore and then had some concussions and had to go into concussion protocol. She’s finally been released and so she is able to join us as a defensive specialist.”
Brewer’s road to recovery has been remarkable. She’s had five concussions since her freshman year. She played most of her freshman season and half of a season as a sophomore.
“I had to go to a neurologist for a full year. I had to go through a bunch of testing so I could come back, and when I was cleared it was a no brainer to come back,” Brewer said. “My sister played before me and it’s something in the family. It’s just something that I love to do.”
The Lady Tigers are scheduled to open their 2020 season on Aug. 18 against Collinsville at the TMAC. They will be at Claremore on Aug. 20.