After an impressive undefeated regular season and a playoff sweep, on May 31st, the Oyster River High School (ORHS) unified volleyball team (5-0) beat Franklin High School (3-2) in the championship game 2-1, bringing home another trophy for the Bobcats. After beating Franklin 2-1 in the regular season, the team sealed the deal again, this time in the most important game of the season. In the first set, Oyster River found themselves down 2-9 and then later 20-23, but ended up winning 29-27. Although they lost 17-25 in the second set, they were able to assert themselves in the third and won 15-8.
Since last year’s loss to Dover in the finals, the team was determined to go back to the championship game and win, which coach Jake Baver took note of. “I inherited a unified volleyball team that had made it to the state championship last year, and they lost in the finals in a way that I think for all the members of the team that stuck around this year meant that I had a very motivated team,” he said.
Baver, who had just taken the reins of the team at the start of the season, knew that a championship was on everyone’s mind. “My expectations were championship, and that didn’t surprise anyone. That’s what the team wanted.”
Baver explaining the expectations for the team.
It’s easier said than done, however, as the team faced multiple challenges throughout the season. Since the gym’s floor is being redone, the team had to relocate to the middle school gym at the start of playoffs. “[It] doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s unified. There’s a lot of moving parts in order for everybody to feel like they can successfully play the sport,” said Baver.
Additionally, the team would also have to work on some of the problems they had last year. According to player Mitchell Warden (‘23), known to many as ‘Money Mitch,’ one of the team’s limitations was communication. “Right from the beginning [Baver] was saying that communication is the most important thing when it comes to volleyball. He was right; last year in the championship, our communication was down, and we didn’t end up winning that one,” he explained.
Small things like calling out who is going to hit the ball, and team support can really boost confidence and help win points. “When you’re in a stressful game [like the championship] it’s easy to get in your head. Celebrating every little victory is really important. Even when you make a mistake, you still have that support right next to you on the bench. Or if you’re on the court, you have all those people with you,” says partner Hayden Spires (‘24).
Their last hurdle was Franklin, who had a very strong team. “The thing we were most scared for is [Franklin] had two exchange students who were really good at volleyball. They were like, literally, the whole team, so it wasn’t very fair. One of the [players] looked like he was 25,” said Spires.
It was a difficult fight at first for Oyster River, as in the first set they found themselves in a losing position. “We hadn’t really been tested the entire season,” said Baver. “[The first set] was rife with moments of doubt and insecurity, and the team collectively picked each other up and performed so well to get that first set.” Because of this impressive team performance, Oyster River was able to win their second championship in three years.
Baver talking about why they won.
However, there are many reasons this championship meant more than the other ones. First of all, Warden and other seniors were able to cap off their high school careers with an amazing season. “[Winning] means a lot for our seniors, especially myself, who’ve been doing unified for quite a few years now. And this was a good way to end our careers for high school,” says Warden.
Secondly, Baver was not only able to have an undefeated season as a new coach but also learned valuable lessons along the way.
Baver explaining adversity.
– James Li
(Photo Credit: Mitchell Warden)