VOLLEYBALL: Verdigris aims for the state championship in 2022 | Sports


VERDIGRIS – Caleb Horton doesn’t pay much attention to outside noise.

When his Lady Cardinals reached the Class 4A semifinals last season alongside three private schools — Victory Christian, Lincoln Christian and Regent Prep — they were dubbed by some the “public school state champions.”

The label was an honorary consolation prize created to somewhat minimize the dominance of private schools in volleyball over the past decade. With the exception of Elgin’s 2012 Class 4A title, every state championship since 2011 in Classes 5A-3A has been won by a private school.

However, the coach of Verdigris does not console himself in the technicality, and his team either.

The Lady Cardinals want to win the real state championship. They have no interest in a title created in fantasy and rewarded with pity.

“Girls, they want to win it all,” said Horton, who returns four of his six starts. ” That’s the point. Usually, some people will say, “Oh, let’s do it” or “Let’s do it really well”, but this year, that’s the goal: to go through everyone and win everything. That’s our mindset at the moment, and they’ve had a few good days in training, so we’ll see. I’m excited about it, but I try not to talk too much about it. I told them I wanted them to do all the talking in the field through the gameplay. I don’t want to hear your parents talk about us, and I don’t care what other people say. You go out there and do it on the pitch and show people that we are for real. People can talk, but if we show up to a game and beat someone, that says a lot more. The pieces are there, but it’s a question of making them play together until the end of the year.

“I want the ring.”

Key Question: Can Verdigris beat leading private schools?

Private schools have proven to be a real thorn in the side of the Lady Cardinals in 2021. Seven of their 11 losses have come at the hands of these institutions, and although Verdigris recorded nine wins against them, he had a losing record against the Class 4A Privates (3-4) and was swept in three of those matches.

In eight sets overall against Class 4A state champion Victory Christian and runner-up Regent Prep, the Lady Cardinals remained winless.

“We haven’t beaten Regent in the season. We haven’t beaten Lincoln in season. We haven’t beaten Victory in the season. We were beaten by Mount St. Mary,” Horton said. “As far as that goes, we lost to the schools that ended up on top of the tournaments. We have to actually go compete and beat them in the season and really see how we line up.

Horton, however, said things were different this year.

As some of his players improved in the club leagues during the off-season, he also honed his skills. During the club season, Horton had the privilege of being under the tutelage of Jenks assistant coach Brian Shans, who has helped the Lady Trojans win three Class 6A state titles since 2006, including the last season.

“I learned a lot from him,” Horton said. “I mean, how can you argue with the 6A state champion? Shans taught me a lot. I learn a lot from people who know a lot more than me, and I have no problem saying that people know more than me. It never bothers me.

Horton is now excited to implement some of the things he learned from Shans, and he’s already seeing a change in attitude from his players thanks to his change in approach.

However, the Lady Cardinals’ inexperience in winning at the private school level still gives her reservations.

“I have this little nervousness behind my head because I know what we can do, but it’s actually a matter of them doing it,” Horton said. “Verdigris has never won a state title (in volleyball). It’s one of those things where we don’t really know how to do it. Other people have experienced victory and know what it is, and we really don’t. I hope we can get through and not let nerves or the show get in the way; let’s just play.

Key returners: Morgan Borgstadt, Logan Hamilton, Abagayle Barnes

When it comes to hard-hitting kills and overall style points, look no further than Morgan Borgstadt and Logan Hamilton. The senior duo accounted for the majority of the team’s points in 2021.

Borgstadt and Hamilton combined for 42 eliminations, nine blocks and four aces against Heritage Hall and Regent Prep in the Class 4A State Tournament, and they seem to be having even more impact in big games this season.

“Morgan usually does a lot of summer basketball and comes back a little rusty, but she doesn’t look as rusty as she used to; she hits hard,” Horton said. “Logan has had a great club season with PVB, and those coaches have done a good job with her. She comes back hitting her pretty hard.

Elsewhere, senior Abagayle Barnes is back as a four-year starter at Verdigris’ libero.

Barnes’ stats aren’t quite as stellar as those of Borgstadt and Hamilton, but his presence is just as critical to the Lady Cardinals’ success.

“You get the big guns up front, people know that, but Abby is our libero,” Horton said. “She’s been that girl since she was first grade; she is our back row. She’s captain this year, and she’s really getting people in line and working hard. She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. She signed to go play football at NSU, so I’m thrilled to have her for one more season. In fact, she watches a movie, sends me excerpts and asks me: “What are we doing here? This kid goes out and does some research and comes back to tell me about it. Everyone talks about Logan and Morgan, but no one ever mentions Abby. She doesn’t get the recognition she needs.

Siciliai Redd, a junior, also returns for Verdigris as a starting setter.

Key match: August 8 vs. Inola

This confrontation has become one of the major intra-county rivalries in the region in recent years.

The teams have played three times in 2021, with the Lady Cardinals winning the first two encounters (3-2, 2-1). The Lady Longhorns, however, had the last laugh by sweeping Verdigris 2-0 in the semi-finals of the Verdigris Tournament as they cruised to the tournament title.

While it’s tempting to anticipate games against privateer powers Lincoln Christian on Sept. 1 and Regent Prep on Sept. 27, this season-opening blockbuster could determine the Green Country Conference champion.

“This first game of the year is huge,” Horton said. “Inola has been kind of a rivalry lately, and it’s been a conference game from the start. Whoever wins can win our conference. Not to be arrogant or anything, but after seeing everyone, I’m not sure anyone can stay with the two of us, so our first game of the year can decide our conference.

“It’s going to be a big deal for us to start at home.”


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