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OU volleyball: Sooners prepare for start of season

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Coach Lindsey Gray-Walton smiles while talking to a member of the team at practice Aug. 23.

The Sooners' regular season campaign is finally here.

Oklahoma kicks off its season with a trip to Fort Collins, Colorado, for the 2019 Colorado State Invitational. After last season's 3-0 start in the Northern Illinois Invitational, head coach Lindsey Gray-Walton is hoping to kickstart this season in the same way.

"These are important matchups for us because they’re resume builders," Gray-Walton said. "If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. Going 3-0 would be advantageous, but I want to walk away feeling like we got better."

Going 3-0 this weekend will be no easy task, as OU will face off against two teams who have a legitimate shot at this season's NCAA tournament.

The first matchup, played Friday at 2 p.m., pits the Sooners against the California Golden Bears. The Golden Bears finished last season with a 15-16 season record, their best regular-season finish since 2013. California returns the majority of its roster from last season — including two Pac-12 all-conference honorable mentions in outside hitter Mima Mirkovic and middle blocker Preslie Anderson.

On Saturday, the invitational continues with the Sooners playing a double-header against the Chicago State Cougars at noon and the Colorado State Rams at 8 p.m. The Cougars are coming off a disappointing season after finishing 9-24 on the year, but with reigning WAC Libero of the Year Megan Klavitter guiding the team, don't expect Chicago State to go down easily. 

Colorado State is poised to be the Sooners' toughest challenge all weekend, as they finished last season with a solid 23-8 record and won the MAC conference championship. Ranked No. 1 in the MAC preseason rankings, the key returning player for Colorado State is senior setter and two-time defending Mountain West Player of the Year Katie Oleksak. 

Gray-Walton says that in order for the Sooners to have a successful trip this weekend, they'll have to play to their strengths.

"You can only prepare for the team that played last December," she said. “For us, we are very adamant about who we return and what our best abilities are. I feel like this team has done a really good job in coming into practice prepared everyday. ... They’ve really brought the young ones along, and the young ones don’t act like freshmen.

"They all have created an opportunity to have their moment out there. Each of them have done really great things. We feel confident that we have really good pieces that are going to continue to develop and push everybody to be better each day."

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