The Oak Hall girls volleyball team so far has been unstoppable this season. With eight wins already in the season, the team has no plans to stop the momentum.
The players and coach, Perry McDonald, joined Mainstreet Sports Director Mike Ridaught, and co-host Marty Pallman, on The Prep Zone Sports Show to discuss their season.
Below are excerpts from the Sept. 13, 2023 interview—edited for length and clarity—of The Prep Zone’s interview. You can listen to the full conservation online by going to www.mainstreetdailynews.com/prep-zone.
Mike Ridaught: Oak Hall volleyball has really had a nice run here. A lot of success lately. What’s been the key to these last few years?
Coach Perry McDonald: We’ve been really lucky. It’s funny because back four years ago when COVID hit me and my assistant coach Chris Ortiz came through, we had a team that had some pretty strong players and then quite a few kids that weren’t club players. We had a really tough districting I think we had Florida High and somebody else up there in the Panhandle that was just absolutely loaded. So, we were in a tough bracket overall that made it challenging that first year, but that team came so close to upsetting an absolutely physically dominant Florida High team that had multiple FSU commits.
Ultimately, we got knocked out of the district semifinal in a match that we had no business winning. I think it set the tempo for all those younger kids, who are now our leaders to come through and say, Hey, we can stand toe to toe with anybody that we face. From there, we’ve had the very good fortune over the past couple of years of being reclassified and then getting a much more manageable draw not only in our district but our region. And I think that’s been a major reason for our success and the resurgence of Oak Hall volleyball. We’re looking for our third straight district title and feel pretty good about our prospects and a lot of it is because we’ve got a very attainable draw and a lot of good, hard-working kids that feel that they may have experienced some confined success at this level going forward.
Ridaught: So tell me about some of these other players, because we know about the ones that have returned, but maybe give me a player or two that has either surprised you early, or you feel like hey, by the time they get a little older this season, they’re going to be one to watch. Absolutely.
Coach McDonald: I’ll give you a couple. Before I do that. I’m going to give two quick shout outs to Haley James and Cassie McDonald, because those kids won a national championship this past summer. And so having the two of those kids get that powerful AAU national championship experience, and a great USA V national championship run up in Chicago this summer, put them in a position where they were ready to compete at this level quite well. In terms of newcomers, there’s a saying on the team where we’ve gotten, I think five kids that are a little bit small, and oftentimes at the college level, they call them the little stuff like that. We call ours the back row batteries. And so a couple of those kids starting at the Tampa camp that we went to back in July just frustrated the daylights out of much bigger and better teams.
They’re led by Sarah Miller who’s now our libero and is easily going to come through and blow away the dig record for this past season or this next season here at Oak Hall. Another great one is Sarah Doug and she has been absolutely lights out defensively for us. Two great kids who have been just tremendous shots in the arm defensively. And then one who’s not a back row battery but she’s one of our nasty NetEase freshmen, Kendall Bishop, the unassuming 5-foot-6 frame probably more closely a 5-foot-5 frame don’t let her fool you. The kid jumps out of the gym and she gets just as many kills and blocks as any of the older girls on the team. She is a really neat fun catalyst to watch in terms of the big things that she makes happen.
Ridaught: Sara Dugan, defensive specialist. Tell me about your position and how you feel like you’ve done so far this year at the position.
Sara Dugan: I’m a left back. And it’s been a little bit different for me because normally last year I played right back. So it’s been kind of like a shift kind of all the way across the core. But it’s, I liked the game like a lot more now. And it’s just like, everything every ball is coming to you. And it’s just like, a lot more like intense and in the gameplay. So I like like a lot more. And it’s just like, been such a fun experience to like, get like, get the digs and get like, you know, the outer system sets and stuff like that. So it’s just been really fun.
Ridaught: How would you assess the season so far? Because again, you guys are off to such a great start this year.
Emma Raulerson: I would call this season productive. I feel like we are really getting to it so I think it’s a great accomplishment especially for our seniors.
Ridaught: Penny talk about your injury. Your coach thought it was going to be mid-season before he got you back and then when I saw you out there for the Williston match. I’m like she’s warming up. That doesn’t mean she’s playing. You played so tell me about the recovery and the rehab because somehow, some way, you found your way back early in the season.
Pene Moser: I tore my ACL back at the very beginning of club season in January. Ever since I had surgery, I’ve just been like going at it in physical therapy, just trying to get back for my senior season because obviously, I just want to have fun and for my senior season. I wanted it to be a good time with everyone and be able to play for the last year that I’m going to play volleyball competitively, probably.
Ridaught: Coach mentioned going after the digs record. How do you feel like you’ve played at that position?
Sarah Miller: It’s definitely new because we did have Amelia last year where she left and she was a great player and I really looked up to her even though she was the year below me. She was such a great Libero and it’s not that hard of a transition because fortunately last year, I got to play middle back a lot. It’s actually kind of the same, but I just get a lot more playing time this year, which is very fun, and I enjoy it a lot.
Ridaught: Perry is your dad, have there been any changes with the way he coached you last year to this year? Is he the same?
Cassidy McDonald: The bond is pretty positive. It kind of has to be but overall with my dad every time after a game, it’s easy to discuss what I did wrong and what he did right and he just kind of helps me out. It’s also easy because I can communicate with both of my parents to discuss mechanically what I’m doing incorrectly, and they can tell me and it’s not like a classic parent. They’ll be honest with me. And they’ll be brutal. And I mean, honestly, it helps you to become a better player,
Ridaught: What do you think of this year’s team? You guys are off to an 8-0 start.
Shyla Akri: I think our team is great this year. We have a lot of chemistry, and I think this is probably one of the highest chances we’ll have to win a state championship. There’s no drama on the team and we just excel a lot this year.
Ridaught: Lizzie, tell me about this year’s team. How have things done so far?
Lizzie Cannon: I really think this team, for me, is the best team I’ve ever been on. You don’t see a team all the time that can bond as good as we do. We just get along so well. So I just love that this team can just be ourselves with each other and we don’t have to worry about anything disturbing our connection.