Okeechobee High School volleyball players from the Tribe, from left, Mallorie Thomas, Shaela French, Karey Gopher, Brienna Brockman and Elle Thomas, gather for a photo Oct. 11 during a break between the varsity and junior varsity matches. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee High School’s volleyball team came up one victory shy of reaching the regional playoffs, but optimism abounds because nearly the entire team will be back next season.

The Brahmans lose just one player from this year’s squad, senior Delaney Jones who was honored with her parents in a pregame ceremony Oct. 11 before the team swept Clewiston.

Okeechobee High School’s Mallorie Thomas controls the ball during the Brahmans’ 3-0 win against Clewiston on Oct. 11 at Okeechobee High School. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Okeechobee won a district quarterfinal against Eau Gaille on Oct. 16, but then was eliminated the following day by district champ Jensen Beach, 3-1, in the semifinals. The Brahmans finished with a 13-12 record.

“It’s been a good season,” said Okeechobee coach Taylor Padrick before the Clewiston match. “There’s a lot of young players so I feel as though there’s been a lot of them figuring out how to mesh with the older girls, but they’ve been a lot of fun.”

This year’s varsity squad featured four Tribal members: juniors Brienna Brockman and Mallorie Thomas and freshmen Karey Gopher and Elle Thomas. Shaela French, another Tribal member, spent most of the season on junior varsity, but has a good chance to be on varsity next season.

Here are the coach’s comments on each of the Tribal players:

(On Brienna Brockman): “She’s our big dog up on the net. When I can make her angry, she kills it. Just be angry every game because she’s so sweet and generous that sometimes getting that fierceness out of her is hard, but when I can tap into it she kills it.”

(On Mallorie Thomas): “She’s got a lot of kills playing from the back row. You put her in the back row to dig and play defense, but she also been able to get quite a few points because she swing so well.”

(On Karey Gopher): “Karey is a great little passer. She second guesses herself sometimes, but it’s like, dude, you’re awesome, don’t second guess yourself. She can always get a pass up. She’s great at that.”

Okeechobee’s Karey Gopher smashes the ball over the net against Clewiston. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

(On Elle Thomas): “Elle I love because she goes for everything. She doesn’t second guess herself; she just goes.”

(On Shaela French): “Last season we put her on varsity because she has ups, she can block anybody and we love her for that. This year she’s been working hard one-on-one with the JV coaches and I’ve noticed big improvements with just her volleyball IQ and knowing where she needs to be on the court and knowing who she needs to up with and when she needs to go up. She’s made some great improvements. She’s always had a great attitude and she’ll do whatever you ask her.”

The influx of six freshmen, including Gopher and Thomas, should help provide a solid foundation for the next few years.

“The talent that came in with this young group was huge,” Padrick said.

In recent years, Okeechobee has benefited from the volleyball program at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, which serves as a feeder of sorts for high school teams, including the Brahmans.

“I love that because when they come from the middle school they’re excited and it’s fun and they work really hard and they carry it over here. That same competitiveness, that same will to win comes over,” Padrick said.

Elle Thomas lines up a big hit during Okeechobee High School’s win against Clewiston. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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