The Claremore Zebras have high hopes for the 2019 volleyball season after back-to-back Class 5A state tournament appearances.
Claremore has a mixture of experienced and youthful talent on hand in the hopes of making a third-consecutive trip to state.
"We have six returning players and six new players," Claremore coach Victoria Giron said. "We also have nine seniors. We are figuring out how to mold and gel together as a team."
Senior outsider hitter Brooke Jones is the team captain. She has started since her freshman year and brings a lot to the table.
"Brooke is a leader on and off the court," Giron said. "She has been one of our top performers, leading the team in kills and digs for the past couple of years. Brooke is great at giving the girls confidence and putting the ball away. We rely on her a lot for high-pressure situations."
Senior middle blocker Maddie Hardage has also started since her freshman year.
She provides quite the presence on the court and is quite popular amongst her teammates.
"Maddie is a powerhouse in the middle and our comfort blanket," Giron said. "Everyone just feels safer when she is on the court. Even if she is having an off day, the girls seem to rally for her and follow her guidance."
Senior setter Riley Renfroe will also be entering her fourth season of varsity action.
She is a great motivator and brings plenty of knowledge to the game.
"Our goal this season is to be an example of teamwork for our community and of course, take state," Renfroe said.
Senior Hailey Charles is entering her third season of varsity action.
She will move from middle blocker to outside hitter this year.
"Hailey is just a stud of an athlete," Giron said. "Give her a ball and she will succeed. Hailey is excited about this new position. We will see some growing pains at first, but I know she will become a beast for us on the outside."
Sophomore libero Becca Hilmes is one of those younger players that will be counted on heavily.
She is already showing leadership qualities in spite of her youth.
"Becca is intense and does not settle for second best," Giron said. "She keeps the girls on their toes and sacrifices everything she has every game."
Giron said she feels the team’s strengths will be the offense and the size of its front line. They will leave some "bruises" if they get their hitters the ball on a consistent basis.
The Zebras recently returned from team camp in Colorado, where they placed a respectable 17th out of 52 squads. They experienced great team bonding both on and off the court.
"The girls did amazing and had a blast," Giron said. "They were able to learn from some great coaches and start gelling as a team. We played a lot of competitive teams. We also went white-water rafting. They were smiling from ear to ear."
Bishop McGuinness eliminated Claremore in the quarterfinals in three sets the past two seasons. The Irish will be just one of several strong teams in Class 5A.
Other private schools such as Bishop Kelley, Mount St. Mary and Victory Christian figure to be top contenders as well as a pair of local rivals.
"McGuinness has always been a hurdle," Giron said. "We will also have to take on Coweta and Skiatook. It will not be an easy road to state, but we plan to make a run."
The first step of that run for the Zebras will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday night at Lincoln Christian.
2019 Claremore Zebras varsity volleyball roster
Hailey Charles (2)
Hailey Grant (7)
Maddie Hardage (8)
Becca Hilmes (6)
Ella Irvin (13)
Brooke Jones (11)
Ella Northcutt (19)
Maria Nunez (12)
Riley Renfroe (16)
Elisa Sierra (5)
Lauren Tackett (17)
Kinley Williams (9)