Oct. 14—Two things appearing at odds with one another can both be true.
What Community Christian volleyball coach Christina Maynes and senior middle blocker Channing Apel said before practice Wednesday, for instance.
"They've grown, they've actually improved," Maynes said of her players. "It's more dynamic. It's more diverse."
She ought to know.
It's her first season to run the Royals, who open Class 3A state tourney play at 10 a.m. Friday at Choctaw High School against Chisholm, yet she had a front row seat to last year's squad, when she helmed CCS' junior high program.
Also, that team — the 2020 Royals — she's comparing with the one she's coaching now?
It also won a state championship, the program's third since 2015, taking down Heritage Hall in five sets for the crown.
What's Apel, one of the program's seniors, think?
"I would say it' a continuation [from last year]," she said. "Because half the team plays basketball together and half the team plays soccer together, and we all are sort of at the same club, so we see each other all year round.
"We're all super close throughout the year."
Perhaps it's a continuation, and the Royals are more dynamic, more diverse and better than a year ago, too.
Their season attests.
In 2020, they were 26-8 entering the state tourney, having lost three times to Mount St. Mary, which reached the Class 5A final, twice to Christian Heritage, which reached the Class 4A final and once each to Dibble, Heritage Hall and Oklahoma Christian.
OCS wound up being the team CCS beat to reach the championship match. Dibble was the only outlier.
That's plenty good, but this season has been stronger.
The Royals have been No. 1 forever, have won 34 of 37 matches, losing twice to Mount St. Mary, the No. 1 team in Class 5A, each of the matches going the distance, and once to the OKC Storm, a home-school team that operates like a club team outside the OSSAA.
For no clear reason, the Royals will enter the state tournament tied atop the rankings with Cascia Hall (29-5), the two programs splitting the Class 3A coaches' No. 1 votes, though it's CCS with the bracket's top seed.
Like many coaches with terrific teams, Maynes is prone to listing the intangibles that have the Royals where they are.
"They know how to win. They know what it takes to be successful," she said. "And their mentality is, 'We're going to take care of business.'"
Prodded, she managed to come up with a few names that make things very difficult on CCS' opponents. Some of them were wrapped in intangibles, too.
"We have a power hitter in Landry Braziel. You set her the ball and she'll put it away no matter where she is," Maynes said. "Ashlyn Williams is a leader that, if she's not out there, there is something different."
Braziel, just a sophomore, has both 371 kills and 234 digs. Williams, a junior, has 91 aces and a bigger presence.
"I'm crazy competitive," she said, "and super loud."
Sydney Burks, a senior, knows where the ball needs to go out of the back row and leads the team with 278 digs.
"She just knows where to be," said Maynes. "It's in her psyche. ... Then we have Stella Gorton, who will set any ball the girls need."
Gorton, a sophomore, who leads the Royals with 490 assists, is not their only setter. So, too, is junior Caroline Bell, with 396, but she's also a hitter.
"There's so much flexibility," Maynes said.
Another dual threat is sophomore Victoria Gray, who will enter the state tourney with 220 kills and 253 digs.
At the regional tourney CCS hosted, Apel stepped up and finished with 16 kills, three more than Braziel, and hit at a .429 rate, which is really good, volleyball hitting percentages being a lot like baseball batting averages — .300 is strong.
All that's left is to go play.
The Royals have their morning match Friday at Choctaw. Win that one and they'll meet the winner of Summit Christian and Oklahoma Union at 1 p.m. Saturday in Shawnee. Win that one and they'll play again at 7:30, perhaps against Cascia Hall, a second straight state championship in the balance.
Being more dynamic and diverse ought to help. Having done it before only last year ought to, too.
"We just work well together," Williams said.
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