Blythewood defeated White Knoll in a high-profile Class 4A non-region volleyball match on Thursday. The sixth-ranked Bengals (3-0) dropped the first game of the match to the visiting seventh-ranked Timberwolves, but didn’t falter again on the way to the 3-1 triumph.
“We knew this was going to be a big match even though it’s the first week of the season,” pointed out Blythewood coach Mary Hall. “White Knoll is very good and they beat us last year in the state playoffs (in the Lower State semifinals), so I’m hoping we gain some confidence from this and use it as a springboard for the rest of the year.”
The deep, talented and still very young Bengals put on quite an offensive display after getting off to a slow start in a 25-20 first-game loss. Junior setters Gabby Sanchez and Tara Gianopulos combined for 33 assists and Abreia Epps, BiJonae Jones, Jamila Minor and Teira Daughtry did the major damage up front.
“We have talent across the board, and a lot of depth,” said Hall. “Gabby and Tara have plenty of options whenever they get a good pass to set.”
Epps was the nominal statistical lead with 13 kills, and she also had three aces. Jones had 10 kills and three aces, while Minor chipped in seven kills and two blocks. Daughtry was imposing in the middle, and finished with four kills and five blocks. Epps and Daughtry are juniors, while Jones and Minor are freshmen.
Blythewood got on track in the second game, winning 25-18, then clinched it with two hotly contested wins in the third and fourth games. In both cases, the Bengals came up big down the stretch.
In the third game with the score tied at 21-21, Epps took command after a Kierra Brown kill broke the deadlock. The 5-11 outside hitters delivered back-to-kills off Gianopulos sets before Jones ended it with an ace.
In the clinching fourth game, the teams were even at 22 before Epps stepped up with the pressure on to deliver the final two Bengals points with left-side kills off sets by Martinez.
It was a tough loss in a tough opening week for the likewise young Timberwolves and new coach Cindy Esposito. WK dropped a five-game heartbreaker in Tuesday opener at Lugoff-Elgin.
“We’re young and a bit too up-and-down right now, but it’s early and we have time to develop the kind of consistency you need to compete at a high level for an entire match,” said Esposito, who is the third WK coach in the last three years.
“What really matters is how you are playing late in the season, not at the beginning.”
Senior setter Megan Widener had an outstanding performance, ringing up 22 assists while also contributing six kills and two aces. Sophomore Tierra Small (13 kills) and senior Siraya Windsor (seven kills) were the T-Wolves hitting leaders.
Blythewood returns to action next Tuesday against archrival and defending Region 4-4A champion Spring Valley. White Knoll is off until it takes on Dutch Fork – Esposito’s former team – on Sept. 7 in its home opener.