By Thomas Grant Jr.
The start of Region 4-5A volleyball play means the anticipation of the annual clashes between town rivals Lexington and River Bluff.
Each year, the two teams’ regular-season matchups take on a playoff atmosphere whether in The Swamp or Wildcat Gymnasium.
The former is the site for round one between the Lady Wildcats and Lady Gators this Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We are ready to play River Bluff,” Lexington head coach Eric Shick said. “It is always a battle both physically and mentally for us and I hope the girls rise to the challenge and play their best.”
River Bluff head coach Bryan Piro is taking a low-key approach toward the matchup. The Lady Gators already own a win over the Lady Wildcats this season and have played a formidable non-region schedule.
“I don’t believe my team views Lexington any differently than Dorman, or Nation Ford or Wando,” he said.
“It’s another team that we get to play and compete with. At the end of the match, we will either see if what we’re doing is good enough to win or it will show us what we need to continue to work on as we prepare for playoffs.
“With that being said, we did face off with Lexington in the preseason tournament in Rock Hill where we beat them in the quarterfinals 25-23, 26-24. I think that was a big shock to all the Lexington players/fans as they didn’t think we had the team to be able to compete with them after all we had graduated last year. They added a couple of transfers which really elevated their team, but like I said, I don’t believe my team views Lexington as anything other than another team who we get to compete with.”
Lexington graduated eight players from last year’s “Cinderella run” which produced a Class 5A Lower State championship and state runner-up trophy. The Lady Wildcats placed second in the region to River Bluff and managed to go through the Lower State before losing to Mauldin in the final.
With exception to the ending, Shick is hoping to “peak at the right time and play their best volleyball at the end of the season once again”.
“New players have stepped up to fill spots and we are doing well,” he said. “It is always our goal at Lexington to make a late-season run and we are hoping to again this year. We have a great group of girls and are still working out who is best suited in each position, and we hope to have that all figured out by playoff time.”
Lexington owns wins this season over defending state champions Wren of Class 3A and Aiken of Class 4A and finished second last Saturday at the Hillcrest Tournament. It defeated Ashley Ridge, Westside, T.L. Hanna, and last year’s Class 4A runner-up Pickens and tied Pickens before losing in straight sets to Cardinal Newman. It opened region play Tuesday against Chapin.
“Our team is still very solid in serving, passing, and defense this year,” Shick said. “We always try to be good at those skills. We are working on our offense and blocking a little more this year and hope that can strengthen our team.
“Our out-of-region schedule is strong as each year I try to schedule the best teams I can to get us prepared for region play.”
River Bluff has also tested itself in non-region play with matches against Dorman and Nation Ford which ended in Best-of-Three set losses and a win over nemesis Wando. Piro said the biggest strength of his team is their “grit” in they aren’t’ “flustered or nervous about playing anyone.”
This is despite the lack of a number of experienced players, according to Piro.
“We return one full-time starter from last year, sophomore setter, Alexis Jodie,” he said. “Senior outside hitter, Kylie Wilson is another player who got a few starts last season, but Alexis is the sole returner. We have a lot of inexperience seeing time on the court this season so far.
“We’ve got a lot of big shoes to fill from what we graduated last year in both outside hitters, both middles as well as our libero. I like the effort and grit of the team and they’re gaining valuable experience to hopefully help us make another deep run into the playoffs.”
I don’t see any particular team this year as dominant as there has been in the past. 5A is really wide open for many teams to claim that title.
Feature Photo River Bluff Girls Volleyball (Photo by GoFlashwin.com)