Gwen Wilcher spent much of the season hoping her Keenan volleyball team would be ready when this day came.
It is the eve of the Class 2A playoffs and the Raiders are doing about as well as Wilcher had expected. Keenan, two seasons removed from its state championship run, finished its regular season 17-9, including a 9-1 mark to finish first in Region 4.
"I knew I was going to have a lot of girls that only played junior varsity and hadn't seen that level of competition, so I wanted to make sure we played those high caliber teams early on to get that experience," Wilcher said.
She put her team through the wringer to get to the head of its class.
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By the time it began its region season, Keenan had notched wins against 3A Chapin and 4A power Blythewood. The Raiders pushed themselves in close losses to Brookland-Cayce and Class A defending champ Christ Church.
When they took on Andrew Jackson in the region opener, the Raiders were a battle-tested 8-4.
Then, at the Lexington Invitational, Wilcher's team scored a big win against West Ashley before losses to Class 4A No. 2 Lexington and nine-time defending 2A champion Bishop England.
A young team led by juniors, the Raiders have not matched the competitive spirit that was their trademark during the 2007 playoffs, but Wilcher expects that will come as experience and success build confidence.
"Now they're just concerned with getting the job done and doing it right," which is not a bad thing, Wilcher said.
Every game is a lesson for the young Raiders.
With every player rotating on and off the court, Wilcher splits her time between giving directions to the players and teaching the girls on the bench. She said each win for the Raiders has been a concerted team effort.
"There's no one on our bench that does not play for me," Wilcher said. "To win a match for us, everybody has to play. It takes all of them because they are young and we're not a huge team size-wise."
Keenan uses up to four different setters in a game and everyone on the court hits.
"Everybody has a role and knows that role. Everybody has to pull their role because they know if they don't, it means someone else has to do their job and there will be a hole," Wilcher said.
These days, Wilcher feels her team is ready for its next task. The Raiders begin the Class 2A playoffs at home against Saluda on Monday. The Upper State bracket gives Keenan homecourt advantage all the way through the tournament if it runs the table.
"That's very important for them, especially with a young team. It can make a world of difference when they have that home crowd support," Wilcher said.
It is the final piece of a puzzle Wilcher has been putting together all season.