Perhaps Bartlesville High’s two Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State volleyball players Mia Otten and Sydney Collins deserve a belated nickname — the Stabilizers.
As long as Bartlesville Lady Bruin head coach Jen Ward know they were on the roster, she could count on a highly-competitive team — from their sophomore to senior campaigns, Collins and Otten played massive roles in Bartlesville’s progress from 11-20 (2019) to 18-18 (2020) to 22-11 (2021).
Added to the six wins Bartlesville won in 2018 — the year prior to Ward’s arrival — and Collins and Otten spearheaded Bartlesville to 57 wins. There are probably few tandems in Bartlesville volleyball history that could match that success — especially considering Bartlesville’s dizzying ascent in just four years.
But, Otten — a dynamic and untamable 6-foot-3 hitter — and Collins — a sparkplug at libero/setter that might make an electric cell-fueled hare appear pokey — are now gone, slipping out the door via graduation.
Otten is set to call Dayton University her athletic address for the next few years; Collins will be going around the corner, so to speak, to try to boost the Oklahoma Wesleyan University volleyball team.
Point is, with Otten and Collins now gone, Ward hasn’t quite got a handle on this year’s team as it prepares for its season opener in the second week of August.
She praised the talent level of her group, but doesn’t know how it will gel, especially in terms of on-court cohesion, with so many players in new positions. The Lady Bruins could struggle, at least early, or they could build on the successes of the past couple of seasons, Ward said.
“We’re in a rebuilding mode this year,” she said, which might explain why the team is playing a relatively light scrimmage schedule. “Losing two All-State players, I don’t know what I have yet. I don’t think it will take that long to rebuild. I’ve been working them so hard and they keep coming back.”
The nightmare apparent for Otten — at least in terms of experience and power — is third-year starter Kelsey Ward, a junior 6-footer. Emry Brown — who displayed a mighty swing in limited varsity play last season — also will be counted on to help make up for the loss of Otten’s firepower.
Coach Ward also is moving Marissa Demuth from the middle out to the right side.
“She’s big and she blocks really well,” coach Ward said. “Like Mia showed last year, that right side blocker has to be big.”
Collins exit leaves another huge vacancy at setter.
Ward is planning to have two setters on the court, in a 6-2 look. Her primary distributors going into the campaign are Bethany Johnson and Hayden Brandon, but freshman Emma Parsley also will create a three-girl rotation at setter.
Another significant personnel loss from last year is a two-year player at libero, but Ward welcomes back Reid Foust — with experience at the position — to fill that spot
Moriah Christian is designated as a middle blocker.
“I got a lineup I could deal with yesterday,” Ward said. “I usually have an idea of how we’re going to do, but I don’t have one yet with this group. … We’re in the process of pulling it together. We have lots of potential and lots of talent. … The number one thing we’ve worked on this preseason is transition.”
She wants to see cohesion among the players into transitioning to the right spots during play.
The Lady Bruins eye two scrimmages this coming week — on Tuesday at Ponca City and on Wednesday at Jenks.
In related news, Ward praised the effort of Sydney Collins in this week’s All-State volleyball match.
“She was fantastic,” Ward said.
Otten had been an original All-State selection, but missed the match. She had had surgery during the offseason and also had to report in June to Dayton, Ward noted.