Last year the Oak Hall volleyball team fell one game shy of a state semifinal appearance in Class 2A while Class 1A Williston advanced to its first final four since 2017.
Tuesday night was a good litmus test to start the season as the Red Devils hosted the Eagles in the regular season opener for both teams.
“I thought it was one of the best matchups around for a season opener,” said Williston coach Kevin Tiller. “We purposely play these games early in the season to get us better to make our run toward our 1A schedule. We knew that Oak Hall would bring the high energy on the floor and they did. Man, they dug everything we threw at them.”
Following a see-saw affair early, Oak Hall rallied twice, down 18-16 in the opening set and 16-14 in the second, to sweep host Williston, 25-19, 25-22, 25-16.
“This is a really fun gym to play in with a lot of energy,” said Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald. “We knew it was going to be a loud, hostile crowd. It’s a special way to start.”
Senior Ave Scorpio led the Eagles (1-0) with 13 kills, including five in the opening set, plus one of her two blocks in the match.
“Ave Scorpio was nothing short of brilliant tonight,” McDonald said. “I told her at the end of set two I needed first set Ave to show up and you could tell she really came through and attacked and blocked with confidence.”
Oak Hall also got a boost from the return of senior Pene Moser (eight kills), who was recovering from a torn ACL and wasn’t expected to play early in the season.
“She was cleared late last week, she didn’t play preseason, yesterday was her first activity practice-wise and she had moments that were quite good,” McDonald said. “We’ll try and keep her scaled and manageable and hopefully manage her so that she reaches a peak when we get to the playoffs in October.”
Moser had back-to-back kills down 16-14 in the second set to tie it and then Buchholz transfer Sophie Thompson (14 assists) added consecutive aces to help spark a 7-0 run.
“She did a heck of a job serving the ball,” McDonald said of the junior. “Sophie’s been a wonderful addition to our team. She’s an unexpected transfer, where you kind of find gold falling in your lap, Sophie’s that for this team.”
Both coaches praised the play of Oak Hall junior setter Cassidy McDonald.
“She took charge of her hitters, especially with Ave there at the end,” McDonald said.
McDonald, who added nine kills, finished with 19 assists.
“I thought (Perry’s) daughter was just incredible,” Tiller said. “All the way around, from setting to playing defense, just a quarterback on the floor."
Senior Grace Dola led Williston with 10 kills, including one to ignite a 6-0 run after trailing 11-8 in the opening set.
“I thought Grace played well, but I thought they no doubt took a ton away from her,” Tiller said. “I think we’ve got to get some right side help to help her. Somebody’s got to step up for us and play that other right side position for us. I thought we went to her a lot, probably too much late and if you play that six-player rotation volleyball you’re going to be tired for sure.”
Overall, McDonald was pleased with the way his team played but also knows there are some things to clean up.
“I give us probably about a ‘B,’ yeah I think we’re capable of a lot more but I think Williston is as well,” McDonald said. “It looked like two teams that were a bit rusty but we were just the lucky team that was able to finish tonight.”
Oak Hall will travel to Newberry, which defeated Bell in five sets on Monday, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Williston (0-1) will host Chiefland at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“A little redemption for us because they came over here and beat us, and it really turned our season around,” Tiller said. “The last time they came here they beat us 3-1, beat us pretty good, so our seniors want some redemption.”