High school volleyball is already into its season, and several area teams are looking to build on solid playoff runs from last year.
Leading the way on that front is Aiken. For the third straight year, the 2010 Class AAAA state champion Hornets made the state title match, falling to Hillcrest for the second consecutive season. This time it was a 25-13, 14-25, 25-14, 25-20 loss, but head coach Malynda Yound said senior outside hitter Anna Tovo is hungry to get back to the final match.
“Anna said she wants to be there all four years ... so all we can do is work towards that goal,” Young said.
Ranked No. 3 in the state in the most recent coaches poll, the Hornets are 19-0-1 so far, and Tovo and fellow senio Emily Teelon, the team’s setter, have been a big part of that. Tovo leads the team with 161 kills on the year, and she also leads the way with 149 digs.
“She is so adept at finding the locations and finding the holes,” Young said of Tovo. “She’s just a smart player. She’s probably the smartest player I’ve ever had as far as being able to maneuver the floor.”
Teelon has 246 assists on the year, filling her role perfectly.
“Emily has continued to mature as a setter, and she is able to do some moves with her body that are hard to replicate on the floor to get to balls,” Young said of Teelon, who is recovering from knee surgery.
Helping to spell Teelon early on has been Britney Crawn and Rachel Joyce, who have around 50 assists each.
Taylor Mabry is back as the team’s libero, and she has 105 digs on the year.
One of Aiken’s Region 5-AAAA foes, North Augusta, also found postseason success a year ago. Head coach Lindsay Tucker’s squad went on the road in the first round and beat Conway before falling in a close 32-30, 25-14, 25-20 match against Region 7-AAAA champion Wando. The Warriors eventually pushed Aiken to a fifth game in the Lower State finals.
Tucker said that after competing against the likes of Aiken, Lexington and White Knoll, all of whom won two or more matches in the playoffs last year, the early playoff matches don’t seem as tough as could be expected.
“Everybody knows our region’s probably the toughest in the state ... but just as a team we’ve got to play tough in our region games,” Tucker said.
Senior middle Ndidi Okafor brings a high talent level to the Jackets’ front line and is working toward bringint that talent forward in the big games.
“She has some really great hits,” Tucker said. “She’s just playing a lot smarter and working hard on getting those big hits when we need them most.”
Also in the middle will be junior Cydney Mathews. Paired with friend and fellow junior Desmonet Wilson, Tucker said the two “play really well together.” In addition to the upperclassmen, sophomore setter Alli Bell has found a way to be a leader on the floor for the Jackets despite her age, Tucker said.
“She’s just a very smart volleyball player,” Tucker said. “So she’s really kind up stepped into the position.”
In terms of playoff runs, Fox Creek wasn’t far behind Aiken with a trip to the Class A, Upper State title game, where it fell to eventual state champion St. Joseph’s. This season, the Predators are 3-2 and were ranked No. 3 in Class A last week.
Literally at the center of those efforts is senior middle Morgan Williams. Head coach Clay Bryant said it has been “invaluable” to have her experience at such a crucial position on the floor.
“That’s the one they all look to,” he said of his “coach on the floor,” Williams. “They believe in her.”
He added that the players also have a reason to look to his other middle, Kaley Turner. The junior is a sound player, and combined with Williams, the two make it easier for the other players to concentrate on their own responsibilities.
“Besides having tons of experience, she’s a picture of fundamentals,” Bryant said of Turner.
If his team expects to repeat its deep run of a year ago, the key is simple: Trust.
“For everybody to play their position and trust that their teammate is going to do the same, that’s what it’s going to take,” he said.
Fellow Region 4-A competitor Ridge Spring-Monetta also lost to St. Joseph’s last season, a 25-6, 25-7, 25-13 defeat in the third round of the Class A bracket. Led by Taylor Gomillion and Raven Valentine, the Trojans are undefeated on the young region slate, having disposed of Hunter-Kinard-Tyler in a Tuesday doubleheader.
Midland Valley (AAA), Silver Bluff (AA) and Wagener-Salley (A) also made the playoffs a year ago, all three losing in the first round.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.