The Deer Creek Antlers earned a 6A regional championship Tuesday evening after they went 3-1 in sets against Stillwater High School.
The Antlers knew they needed to play well in Tuesday’s state qualifier, according to head coach Lisa Polcovich. She said it was one of the most difficult regional teams she’s faced since taking over the role seven years prior.
“We knew Stillwater, it’s always a rivalry between the two schools and we know a lot of the players on that side and I know how good those players are,” Polcovich said. “Especially the two seniors, McKenzie (Vilade) and Lauren Phillips. They wanted it and they wanted it bad and they weren’t going down without a fight.”
Stillwater ended up being at the state finals against Edmond Santa Fe last year. The Pioneers had eliminated Creek earlier in that same tournament before their eventual runner-up finish.
But Tuesday saw a different outcome.
Creek took the first two sets quickly, and it looked like they’d romp to another straight-set regional win. They’d trail occasionally in the first two, but a dominant showing on the serve saw the Antlers rip off a run, eventually taking a 2-0 set advantage.
“We told them we have to put a little zip on the ball and serve deep,” Polcovich said.
The team listened. Haley Houk had a total eight aces across Tuesday’s four sets. Haylee Harris had another two, and Carly Dakin had the last of Creek’s 11 total aces.
Stillwater took the third, though. At first it prevented a sweep, but the Pioneers looked to transition it into momentum midway through the fourth, before Polcovich used a roster change to wrest back control.
Polcovich called a timeout after Stillwater took a 13-10 advantage. The stoppage allowed the coach to get Emily Mardis into the middle of their defense. And, with Mardis adding six total kills to the final stats, that was enough for Creek to take the fourth and subsequent regional championship.
Polcovich said the middle of the Deer Creek offense — where Mardis toes the line — has been crucial to Deer Creek’s success this season.
“Both our middles, all season long we were like ‘we needed to add those middles to the offense,” she said. “if we can get those middles going we’re going to have something special, something that we can use to really compete with those top-5 teams,”
Defensively, Deer Creek was stingy. They held last season’s runner-up roster to limited offensive opportunities, with the Antlers tallying 94 total digs combined. Co-captains Teagan Polcovich and Haley Houk added 31 and 22 digs, Madison Manning and Cameron Turner added another 21 and 20, and Haylee Harris (eight digs), Mardis (five digs) Mazi Watson (four digs), Julia McLendon (three digs) and Carly Dakin (two digs) all prevented Stillwater scores in the win.
Teagan and Houk led offensively, too, knocking 17 kills each into Tuesday’s floor.
Coach Polcovich said the team is excited. After the third set went Stillwater’s way, Polcovich had asked the team why they were here and what they wanted. They answered, and now the coach is hopeful that this seventh state tournament trip will feature a little bit of Deer Creek magic.
“…Seventh regional championship and seventh time going to state, so lucky seven I guess,” she said.