ARGYLE — When Argyle begins play in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament today in Garland, there will be three other teams that are confident they will be the last squad standing Saturday afternoon.
And while all four teams have the talent to have earned a spot in the semifinals, it would be hard to find a team with a deeper offense than Argyle, which will face Abilene Wylie at 1 p.m. today.
While only six players are on the court at a time, Argyle (35-10) has five players with at least 178 kills, and it’s no accident.
“There’s hardly ever a rotation where I worry about how we’re going to score,” head coach Clark Oberle said. “We don’t ever have that situation. Most of the time we have two on the front row all the time that are capable of getting double-digit kills in a match. This is the most well-rounded, powerful offensive team I’ve had.”
Sure, the Lady Eagles, ranked No. 4 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 3A state poll, have a lot of capable hitters, but they also have the most important piece of any offense.
“If a team doesn’t have a strong setter, obviously that’s going to hurt them offensively,” Oberle said. “They can still play great defense and still block, but it’s tough offensively. A setter’s job is more than just setting the ball. They’ve got to keep hitters happy and know who’s hot and who’s not — that kind of thing.”
That is where Blair O’Brien comes in.
The four-year starter at setter has been a mainstay in the program for nearly a third of Oberle’s tenure at Argyle, and now she has the Lady Eagles in the state tournament for the first time in the history of the program, which has always been under Oberle’s direction.
“I think about it all the time. I can’t stop smiling,” O’Brien said of her team’s journey that is near completion, no matter the result. “Out of all the four teams I’ve been on, this one has the most chemistry.”
That much is evident, judging by Argyle’s statistics heading into the match today against top-ranked Wylie (41-5).
Alyssa Bruton has 178 kills on the season, and that’s a low number, relatively speaking.
Senior Sierra James has 226 kills, and then Argyle has a trio of players who have eclipsed the 300-kill mark — freshman Eighmy Dobbins (332), sophomore Katy Keenan (378) and Brooke Robertson (398).
O’Brien is the source of most of those kills, as she has dished out 1,386 assists this season and broke her own school assists record in last week’s regional quarterfinal win over Melissa when she had 60. In Saturday’s regional final win over Decatur, she had 56.
In other words, O’Brien is wildly productive and really good. That comes as no surprise to Oberle, who saw this kind of potential from O’Brien back in middle school.
“I knew from watching her play in middle school that she had that knack,” Oberle said. “Not only did she have good hands at that time, but she had great hands and court awareness. She was a levelheaded competitor. She had all of that in middle school.”
Coming in as a freshman and being the setter in a 5-1 offense is a fairly intimidating task for anyone, but Oberle said it didn’t take O’Brien long to earn her older teammates’ respect.
“Her freshman year we had to have conversations early on about how she shouldn’t have done this or that in a few matches that year,” Oberle said. “But probably no more than three weeks into her freshman season, she really almost had it all figured out.”
Being under that microscope early in her career might be one reason why O’Brien is so easy to get along with and gives her hitters a long leash.
“She’s not a real vocal leader, but she knows when to pick you up and knows when you’re down,” Keenan said. “If I have a bad kill or she knows her set might have been a bit off, she will set me the next ball, not say, ‘Oh you messed up. You’re done.’
“She knows what it takes to win. She knows how to get it done. She knows who she needs to set at what times. She knows us better, as hitters, than we probably do. She knows our tendencies and where we tend to hit. It really helps having her out there.”
To move on to Saturday’s title match against either La Grange (37-5) or Cleveland Tarkington (37-7), Argyle will have to get past Wylie, and Oberle likes his team’s chances.
“I think they’ve got two pretty strong outside hitters, but I think we’ve got more weapons than they do,” Oberle said. “I think we’re a little bit stronger in back-row defense than they are, too.
“I think we’re just a well-rounded offensive team. I’d be surprised if there’s anyone with this many kids playing this well at this point in the season.”
And again, that all goes back to the Lady Eagles’ captain and four-year starter and her comfort and trust in all of her teammates.
“All these girls are very unselfish,” O’Brien said. “They want the best for the team. Setting whoever’s hot that match, I don’t ever have to worry about anyone getting unhappy because they didn’t have enough kills or didn’t get the ball enough. Mixing it up and going to everyone is what makes our offense so good.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .