High School Sports

Stretch run begins in volleyball playoffs

The final push for state championship bids begins this week for a number of Midlands volleyball teams. The goal for all involved is be still be standing on Saturday at White Knoll where all four classification titles will be determined.

The fun begins tonight with a prime volleyball match pitting traditional powers Brookland-Cayce and Camden in a third-round Class 3A bout at B-C. It will be the sixth high-stakes meeting of the teams.

Last year, Camden swept the Bearcats out of the playoffs with a 3-0 third round win before falling to Hilton Head in the Lower State championship bout. The Bulldogs also sent B-C packing in the third round on the way to Lower State titles in 2001 and 2002. The Bearcats turned out Camden in the third round during their state championship season in 2003 and in the third round in 2000 before falling to Newberry in the Lower State finale.

Both teams won region title this season. The veteran Bearcats returned to the throne in Region 5-3A after two straight second-place finishes. The young, rebuilding Bulldogs bagged the Region 6-3A title. It was the program’s eighth region championship in this decade.

Camden enters as the favorite, if the final regular season coaches poll is any indication. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 7, while the Bearcats are 10th.

Camden has gone 0-4 in state championship matches since winning three in succession (1993-95). B-C is 0-2 in the finals since earning the program’s one and only state title in 2003.

On Tuesday, Lexington and White Knoll have third-round matches on tap in Class 4A, while Gilbert and Keenan engage in an all-Midlands showdown in the third round of the Class 2A playoffs for the second year in a row.

Second-ranked Lexington, which lost its No. 1 ranking and its only non-tournament match of the season to top-ranked Dorman on Sept. 16, hosts upstart Beaufort, which has never been this far along the playoff road.

Conversely, this is familiar territory for the Wildcats who have reached the state semifinals four times under coach Chee Lee. Last year, Lexington was felled by Wando in the Lower State championship match after spending all of its previous playoff history in the Upper State.

The obviously Wildcats goal is to reach the state finals for the first time. Lexington has two 3-0 playoff wins on the books, but did not have an easy time of it while dispatching James Island in the second round.

White Knoll, which finished third in Region 5-4A, has a rematch with conference runner-up Aiken on the road. The scrappy Green Hornets swept the Timberwolves by 3-1 scores during the region campaign, and eliminated defending Lower State champion Wando 3-1 in the second round.

For the T-wolves, playing this deep in the playoffs is a new experience. A 3-0 win at Berkeley last week sent White Knoll on to the third round for the first time in program history. The Timberwolves pretty much dominated the Stags (25-21, 25-11, 25-15) in the historic match after their down-to-the-wire 3-2 first-round success at West Ashley.

The playoffs so far have underscored the strength of Region 5-4A, at least in terms of the coaches’ rankings. Lexington closed the regular season at No. 2 behind Dorman, Aiken at No. 3 and White Knoll at No. 5.

Second-ranked Gilbert visits No. 6 Keenan in the third round of the Class 2A volleyball playoffs. It’s a rematch. Last season, Gilbert defeated the defending Upper State champion Raiders 3-1 in the third round the way to winning the Upper State title and an eventual loss to imperious Bishop England in the finale.

Keenan is on a roll of late, advancing at least to the third round of the playoffs for four straight years. This year has been a major accomplishment, considering the youth and inexperience of the team at the start of the 2009 season.

Gilbert, meanwhile, is a veteran team that returned the program to the upper echelon of 2A volleyball last season. The Indians were a powerhouse in the late 1990s under coach Jan Flynn, winning back-to-back championships in 1996-97, beating Bishop England in the Lower State finals both times. BE gained revenge in the LS finals in 1998. Gilbert reached the finals at the expense of the Bishops again in 1999, but this time the Indians fell to Chapin.

The Raiders stormed to the Class 3A title in 1992 under coach Van McCloud, but had to wait 16 years for a return trip to the finals. Keenan was the 2008 Upper State champion in 2A before hitting the wall against Bishop England in the finale.