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Ola seniors ready for final run

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

They haven't shied away from the pending finality. In fact, they started talking about it over the summer. They started counting all the lasts of their senior season -- their last camp, their last home-opener, their last county tournament, their last area tournament.

Ola's five seniors -- Kira Graziani, Kayla Hanekamp, Andrea Quintanilla, Lauren Stojanowski and Taylor Waterman -- now begin their last run through the state playoffs tonight when the Lady Mustangs (40-14) host Sequoyah in the Class AAAA first round.

No matter how far Ola advances, its five seniors will conclude a remarkable high school career.

"If you asked me anything they could've done differently, I couldn't think of anything," Ola coach Lonnie Wheeler said. "They did everything they could to contribute."

Their list of accomplishments is impressive.

During their time -- all contributed to the varsity team to varying degrees as freshman -- the Lady Mustangs have won two area championships (2007, 2009); three county championships (2008-10); advanced to the Class AAAA quarterfinals (2009); and posted an overall record of 162-47.

"They've established a precedence of what can be achieved if you work hard enough at it," Wheeler said. "That may be hard to match in the next few years."

They did it through their tight friendships created at summer camps. Through wrapping teammates in Saran Wrap while asleep. Through covering teammates with silly string.

"That's where we grow and come together," Hanekamp said.

Each encountered their own hardships.

Graziani didn't make her middle school team. But a friend convinced her to give it another try the summer before her freshman year. She made the team, and as the team's libero has 83 aces, good for 10th in Class AAAA, and 322 digs.

"I just didn't give up," Graziani said. "I practiced all summer and when high school came around, I made the team."

Stojanowski endured switching positions every season. She went from middle hitter, to right-side hitter, to outside hitter and to her current hybrid position as an inside and outside hitting threat. She's among team leaders this season with 229 kills, 209 digs, 155 assists and 78 aces.

"It was kind of hard, especially setting," Stojanowski said. "But I'm kind of glad to have done it, because I feel like I'm better all around now. I have little more experience."

Each season Hanekamp approached Wheeler with her request to be an outside hitter. Each season she was back at setter, though she thrived in the role.

"I've been a setter for three straight years," Hanekamp said. "I've been wanting to hit since freshman year. (Wheeler) never let me."

This season, Wheeler acquiesced, and Hanekamp proved her worth. She's second on the team in kills (238), digs (257) and aces (121) and leads the team in assists (353).

Quintanilla leads the team in aces (122), blocks (91) and kills (264). Waterman has 65 kills from her position as right-side hitter, a role in volleyball that often goes thankless.

Wheeler said they have approached the team with a spirit for the game that's certainly contributed to their success.

"They all have a love for the game that you really can't quantify," Ola coach Lonnie Wheeler said. "They love it so much they probably can't even think about missing a practice."

But despite all they've accomplished, there's one thing Ola's five seniors feel like they're missing.

"We want to go to the Final Four," Stojanowski said. "That's what we really want to do."