INOLA — After a mediocre showing against Claremore in a scrimmage last week, Verdigris coach Caleb Horton was feeling nervous.
He wanted to sweep Inola in the team’s season opener on Monday night, but he wasn’t sure what to expect from his Lady Cardinals.
They didn’t let him down.
Verdigris defeated the Lady Horns in straight sets — 25-17, 25-10 and 25-18 — in the Inola gym to open the season 1-0 for a fifth-consecutive year.
“I knew it was going to be a tough night, and it’s hot in here,” Horton said. “But tonight we actually played well. We started off with a 6-2 formation, but after that we switched to a 5-1 in the second set, and it worked really well, and we did the same thing in the third set.”
Verdigris returns to the court for the Bartlesville Tournament on Friday and Saturday. Inola hosts Locust Grove at 7 p.m. on Thursday before traveling an hour southeast for a weekend tournament in Tahlequah.
. . .
Lexi Wood surprised even herself.
By her own admission, she hadn’t played up to her standards in quite some time.
However, something about this matchup being Wood’s last first game of her volleyball career brought out the competitive edge that has been waiting to be released.
The senior unofficially tallied six aces on the serve, two of which came during a third-set rally in which the Lady Cardinals scored 10-straight points to secure the sweep.
“I have no idea (what brought it out of me),” Wood said. “I think I was just excited because it was my last first game of volleyball. It felt really good, and I was excited for us to win.”
When Wood took over for her final serve of the night, Verdigris trailed Inola, 18-15, and was in danger of having to play another set in an already hot gym.
Her first ace of the set brought the Lady Cardinals to within one, and the second gave them a comfortable four-point lead at 22-18.
“Fourteen (Wood) had a good serving,” Horton said. “She’s had good servings in the past, but sometimes she hasn’t. That second set, she hit about eight in a row, and I think she had nine or 10 in a row in the third. She was hard serving and consistent, and it really helped us out.
“If it weren’t for her, we would’ve been in trouble.”
Morgan Borgstadt took over from there.
Only a freshman, Borgstadt put the Lady Horns away for good with a block and two kills for the final three points of the match.
It was the second occasion she ended a set, having sealed a 25-17 first-set victory with a kill after three-straight aces from Lily Scott.
“I was just thinking in my head that I have to get this,” Borgstadt said of the match-winning sequence.
Of course, getting to that point wasn’t easy.
After taking a 25-10 second-set loss thanks to the combined effort of Verdigris’ Emma Beats (five kills), Borgstadt (two blocks, one kill), Wood (two aces), Madi York (two aces) and Emily Stout (two aces), the Lady Horns desperately sought to avoid getting swept.
Marley Eaves and Baylea Russell led Inola on a furious run to open the third set, leading by as many as four.
The Lady Cardinals came within one or two points at several junctures but couldn’t quite overtake the Lady Horns.
However, Inola’s energy spiraled when only four points from victory.
Lady Horns coach Melissa Powers attributed her team’s collapse to a dip in defensive effort down the stretch.
“We just have some things that we need to work on,” Powers said. “Defensively, we have to correct some errors. I thought we set and hit the ball well at times, but our serve receive is what we need to work on and getting ours serves over. You just can’t give up easy points, and that’s what we did. We gave up a lot of easy points.”
Losing one of its best players only two days before the season didn’t help Inola’s cause, either.
Kylee Day was set to be a vital member of the Lady Horns’ lineup, but an untimely knee injury suffered at a basketball showcase on Saturday ended the junior’s season early.
“Everybody is going to have to pick up a little slack for her and do extra jobs and play harder,” Powers said.
Horton, though disappointed the Lady Cardinals were in an unfavorable position to begin with, said he was satisfied with the comeback effort in the third.
According to Horton, his squad has displayed a tendency to lower its intensity after a double-digit set win.
Moving forward, Horton said the players must learn to be more consistent if they want to experience desirable results.
“I think the mindset was we whooped this team one set, so we don’t have to try as hard,” Horton said. “We’ve done that a lot the last couple of years. Being consistent is one of the things we’ve worked on. It’s a head game sometimes. I felt if we could get up by a couple of points we could finish it, and we did.
“I was pretty happy about that.”