Lindsey Gray-Walton hovered over her team as they sat on the sideline.
Standing grim-faced and disappointed with her team’s performance in the first two sets, the Oklahoma head coach verbally ripped into the players before asking them for one simple thing — effort. And, despite losing 3-0 to No. 7 Baylor (18-5, 13-2 Big 12), the Sooners (10-16, 4-11) responded to their head coaches' plea in the third set.
After losing the first two sets 25-17 and 25-14, OU encapsulated energy that they couldn’t find in the previous sets. Freshman left outside hitter/middle blocker Megan Wilson and redshirt senior left outside hitter Savannah Davison, Oklahoma’s number one and two kill leaders this season, respectively, led the charge with eight combined kills in the third set. Ultimately, the Sooners used their momentum to charge out to a 17-14 lead.
Baylor, however, retaliated and ended the game on a 25-23 third set win with 17 kills, ending the Sooners’ hopes for a comeback win.
“It's always tough to play your last four against the No. 1, No. 7 teams,” Gray-Walton said. “But you got to compete. That's why you come to the Big 12, to play as good opponents at the University of Oklahoma. … And so the thing that we've been working on is the relentless pursuit that's needed to just compete every point no matter if you're up or down (in game). What makes other teams really good is they aren't emotionally attached to what happened last."
“We're going to go down swinging. And you know, sometimes we've been really high air and (we’ve) got to reel that in. And that's a mixture of youth and veterans that one knows better, and then you think by this moment at this time in the season, you should know better.”
Now, as the Sooners have lost their sixth game in a row, which cemented them second-to-last place in the Big 12’s rankings and only two games ahead of TCU, they’re looking for small mental victories to carry it over into its final game. Specifically, Gray-Walton hopes the effort shown in the third set can be carried over into OU’s final game and into 2022.
For her promising core of freshman, including Wilson, setter Peyton Dunn and libero Callie Kemohah, Gray-Walton is pushing them to seek consistency on a nightly basis.
So far this season, the trio has a collection of 10 weekly awards, helping the Sooners be the only program to garner awards in all three rookie categories. On Tuesday, the group only netted 13 kills, alongside Dunn’s negative .250 hitting percentage. Their development is pivotal for the Sooners’ success next season.
"They're good listeners to their coaches. They're good listeners to their leaders,” Gray-Walton said of her young core. “They definitely have what they'll learn and take away from this year and now the question is how they'll use it moving forward, based on their own experiences this year."
While Oklahoma’s seniors celebrated their longstanding senior night at the McCasland Field House, Gray-Walton is hoping to send them off the “right way,” while still holding them accountable, as they enter the final game of the season against Baylor at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, in Norman.
“I think the way I coach is like a mom, and I'm a mom, too,” Gray Walton said. “I was disappointed, and they knew that. We've worked so hard, and that's a core value of our program. Then, in the moment, when we needed to show up they didn't and that's tough.”