By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
A veteran of the volleyball club scene, Claire Farmer didn’t let it really sink in how special a talent she was until the first college letter arrived.
This happens, even while kids don’t play club ball just as a diversion.
“Since I was a beginner and starting club ball, I played to have fun but I guess it’s sunk in that I must be pretty good,” said the Muskogee High School sophomore.
That first letter was from the University of North Carolina. There will be others, just like they’ll be the kind of awards like she got this week as the Player of the Year on the All-Phoenix area team, selected by area coaches, the Phoenix sports staff and correspondents, and staff representing the Tahlequah Daily Press.
“It’s a big deal just being recognized,” she said.
Her resume showed team highs of 627 kills, 282 digs and 97 aces as an outside hitter for a Lady Roughers team which set a record for wins, finishing 24-11, and made the regional finals for the first time in program history.
“When you play year-round on a national club and you practice hard and you’ve got 1,300 kills in two years — I mean no one in this area comes close to that,” said Muskogee coach John Hammer, who began coaching Farmer when she was 6 and on into a local club team until she joined the Tulsa-based Club One three years ago.
“I mean she hasn’t gone from there to here in a year. She’s been good for some time.”
Sequoyah coach Jay Herrin said she impacted a game like no other opponent he’s seen.
“She’s the only kid we had to change how we did things when we played them,” said Herrin, whose club split with Muskogee. “You have to change your blocking scheme or your back line and try to take away her favorite spots where she hits or try to block her a little more, whatever you have to do because she’s a game-changer. She really is.”
Being a club player, there’s no off-season for the sophomore. But she’s laying some groundwork on what she hopes will be an even better junior season.
“My dad (Clayton Farmer) has made me a workout that increases my vertical (jump) and it’s a bunch of squats and jumping rope on a daily basis,” she said. “I just got to the age where I can start getting letters from colleges and my junior year is going to be really important.”
And it’s also important on a team level.
“We’re losing two really important seniors we’ll miss a lot (one being Alexis Rosson, who just missed selection to the team) but we have some good younger girls who are coming up. We were so close this year to beating Jenks (25-22, 25-23, 25-21) and are right there with some of the best teams in our class. I think next year will be the year we take that next step (qualifying for the state tournament).”
North Carolina came calling first but there’s no hesitation in Farmer’s mind where she wants to go.
“I want to go to OU,” she said.
“She’s a straight-A student and an athlete. I think she’ll be able to do whatever she wants to do,” Hammer said.
Herrin was selected in a razor-thin vote for Coach of the Year, edging Tahlequah’s Don Ogden. Both teams made it to the state quarterfinals, Herrin’s in 4A and Ogden’s in 5A.
“We had a veteran team with some nice additions that helped us get over the top,” he said. “I think we were right there last year but we had two injuries and another player that couldn’t play in regionals and somehow we managed to fight through to the regional finals,” he said. “Seven seniors coming back I thought whose season was all about getting to state.”
Sequoyah started 19-0 and split with Oklahoma Christian, the team that knocked them off in the quarterfinals. They were No. 4 in the final 4A state poll.
“We were disappointed we didn’t go further once we got (to state) but it was still a really good year,” he said.
Three of the six area teams filled all spots on the squad. Three were Herrin’s players, including his daughter Baylee Herrin, a senior middle blocker. Others were senior outside hitter Audrey Ballou and junior middle blocker Jhonett Cookson.
Jensen Martin, a junior who set for Farmer all season, was selected. Tahlequah had two seniors off its 33-8 semifinalist that lost to finalist Lincoln Christian: Gillian Tinnin, an outside hitter and Kalie Champlain, a setter and outside hitter.