For the first time in 38 years volleyball is being played at Oklahoma Christian University. After cancelling the program in 1983, Oklahoma Christian announced the return of volleyball in 2019 and plans to join the Lonestar Conference.
The man leading it all, head coach Barry Wheeler, is excited to finally be competing after two years of full training and practices.
“What we set out for a year and a half ago is actually happening, it’s really exciting.” Wheeler said.
Players Jessica Souza and Emily Armstrong share this excitement.
“It feels amazing,” Souza said. “All the hard work and patience paid off. It almost doesn’t feel real having not played a game in over a year.”
Armstrong agreed with her teammate.
“It’s thrilling to see the team that has spent hours and hours in the gym working on skills get to carry their hard work into the matches,” Armstrong said.
The Oklahoma Christian volleyball team spent all of 2019 and 2020 practicing in high anticipation for matches to begin. Wheeler views the past two years as beneficial for the Eagles.
“It gave us time to develop relationships and improve, more practice time and playing together,” Wheeler said. “We just had to adapt, practice and improve without any matches to play.”
Souza agreed with her coach: “The practices allowed us to come together and work on our skills.”
Building and leading a program from scratch proved difficult for Wheeler. Wheeler spent 13 successive weekends traveling to tournaments and evaluating players in preparation for the opening season. The volleyball team grew from eight players at the start of the 2019 school year to 24 players on the 2021 spring roster. Members range from freshman to junior college transfers looking to extend their volleyball careers.
“We got a lot of talent that came in this year, it’s a big roster but everyone is so close and ready to have a great season,” Armstrong said.
“Everyone is so amazing,” Souza said. “Even though we are new we can be really good.”
When asked what the biggest challenge was in building the new program Wheeler answered “trying to get everybody on the same page at the same time.”
The Eagles started things out with a bang, winning the program’s inaugural game on Sunday, Jan. 24, against Southwestern Oklahoma State 3 sets to 2. The team went on to lose their first conference match of the year to Midwestern State.
Wheeler talked about the loss with a positive mindset.
“We have been playing a lot and we are learning, we just need to settle in. We’ll be fine.” Wheeler said.
Wheeler made it clear that, despite being new, the goal for this team is to win and to be one of the three teams to make the conference tournament.
“There are four teams in our conference and three make it to the conference tournament,” Wheeler said. “We plan to be one of those three.”
Armstrong also spoke about the team’s prospects with a hopeful outlook.
“Just because we are new doesn’t mean we can’t compete or win games,” Armstrong said. “We plan to win.”