Oak Mountain headed to Elite Eight

Senior Samantha Skinner had “an out-of-body experience” after the final Oak Mountain point.

Rian Imwalle was “overwhelmed” as the Eagles won the match.

Winning was amazing, phenomenal and cool.

There were plenty of adjectives thrown around as the Oak Mountain Eagles defeated Oxford 28-26, 21-25, 25-10, 25-15 in an Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A sub-state match to advance to the Elite Eight in coach Tammy Richardson’s first season.

Oak Mountain, which owns three Elite Eight appearances, advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2003. The Eagles will play in the Elite Eight on Oct. 28-29 at the Pelham Civic Complex.

Oak Mountain (36-21) will face McGill-Toolen in the Class 6A quarterfinals Oct. 28 at 11 a.m.

Richardson said the Elite Eight is a reward for all of those who bought into her vision for the Oak Mountain volleyball program.

“The credit goes to the kids and the parents,” Richardson said. “The kids bought in and the parents bought in. There were some very tough times. I think they thought it was worth it.”

Skinner led Oak Mountain with 18 kills. Imwalle had a team-high 12 digs. Chelsea Payne finished with 39 assists in the win.

After a hard-fought win in the first set, the Eagles dropped the second set before putting the Yellow Jackets away for good with a commanding 25-10 win in the third set.

Skinner, who didn’t experience much success in her first three seasons at Oak Mountain, said playing for Richardson in the Elite Eight as a senior is a blessing.

“She’s brought me from the ground up,” Skinner said. “It’s amazing to see how we’ve all improved. There’s no words to describe it.”

The Eagles were able to host a sub-state match instead of facing a road game thanks to a tough win over Pelham at a Class 6A regional tournament Oct. 17.

A loss to Pelham would have sent Oak Mountain to Grissom, where the Panthers fell in a sub-state match. Richardson said the Eagles’ win over Pelham can’t be underestimated.

“It was truly one of the highlights of my career,” Richardson said.

Richardson said she remembers a few things about the Oak Mountain teams that played in the Elite Eight in the early part of the decade. Richardson faced them as the head coach at Pelham.

The words she used to describe those Oak Mountain teams sounded much like the strengths of her current team.

“They had tremendous height,” Richardson said. “They always hit the ball well.”