During a preseason match earlier this month, Blake Newman caught a glimpse of how the Mustang Broncos could play when everything falls into place.
It took around 20 minutes for the Broncos to build a 31-16 lead over a sizeable Owasso Rams team during a scrummage at Jenks. Although it wasn’t a regular season match, Newman could see it spark the confidence his squad needed to enter the 2023 campaign.
“After that we knew we might have something special and the girls kind of realized we’re a new team now,” the third-year coach said. “It feels like they really believe in themselves.”
Mustang is off to a 7-0 start after rattling off six wins and capturing the championship at the 2023 Sand Springs Invitational last weekend.
The Broncos defeated Choctaw, Enid, and Yukon in two sets apiece on Friday and returned with a pair of two-set wins over Ponca City and Sand Springs on Saturday. They closed out their championship run with a three-set win over Southmoore.
“It built a lot of confidence,” Newman said. “After Day 1 it felt like we were in the driver’s seat. Wins against 6A teams aren’t easy to come by, especially against good teams.”
“It was big to get one against our rival, too. After beating them, we all agreed that anything less than three wins the next day would have been disappointing.”
Erin Mack (Sr.) racked up 31 combined kills during the tournament, including 16 on Day 2, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by Tatum Spencer (Sr.) and Gracelyn Higgins (Jr.).
Spencer produced 19 combined kills while Higgins finished with 55 total digs.
London Cooper (Sr.) also played well, accumulating 30 kills, 65 digs, and 12 service aces. Hadley Hunter (Jr.) finished with 28 kills and 15 digs while Adisen Williamson paced the team with 65 total assists. Raegan Bullard (Sr.) tacked on 41 helpers along with 39 from Merritt Fuller (Fr.).
As a team, Mustang finished with just 17 service errors in all six matches – something that pleased Newman after a slower start in that category.
“The serving got much better,” he said. “We out served everyone as far as putting the ball in seams and making the other team communicate on passing the serve and keeping it in play.
“The block came back, too. Overall ball control was great. That’s kind of the formula for us to be successful this year. We have to have big time ball control and get those key blocks.”
The Broncos are a senior-laden team with six total, including Mack, Spencer, Cooper, Bullard, Williamson, and Melanie Long. Newman accredits much of the early season success to the maturity of his upperclassmen and their ability to lead in multiple ways.
“With this group it’s kind of leadership by committee,” Newman said. “Everything is earned, and you have to work hard. They have really come out and shown that since Day 1.
“It’s also a true family atmosphere with them and it feels like that has been a big part of this early success. Each girl cares more about what they can do to help the team win rather than their own individual goals. There truly is no jealousy or anything like that.”
Last season, the Broncos were 2-5 through their first seven matches. In 2021, they were 3-4. Newman always points to trusting the process.
“That’s what they’re focused on,” he said. “That and playing for each other. We know what we have to do in order to beat teams and control matches and now we have even higher expectations.”
Newman is interested to see how the squad responds to such a strong start and productive weekend. The Broncos host the 2022 state semifinalist Norman North Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
“Enjoy it and be proud of yourselves and the team,” he said of his speech to the players on Saturday evening. “But Norman North would love to put one on us. So, it’s back to the grind and time to focus. There’s still a long road ahead.”