High School Sports

Wildcats, T-Wolves clash in Lower State title bout

There is a storybook quality to the Class 4A Lower State championship volleyball match on Thursday at Lexington.

The host, second-ranked Wildcats are determined to reach the state finals for the first time in program history after failing to take the next step in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2008.

“We’ve been in this position before and I’m anxious to see how we will handle things this time,” said Lexington coach Chee Lee after Tuesday’s easy 3-0 third-round win over Beaufort.

“Once again we have the opportunity to do something we’ve never done before.”

The added drama came with the news that White Knoll would be Lexington’s opponent.

White Knoll, of course, is the school created by the population boom in the county that caused overcrowding at Lexington High, opening its doors in 2000. Most of the original Timberwolves started their careers under Lee at LHS.

Since that time, no White Knoll team has ever beaten Lexington or advanced this far in the state playoffs.

Midlands volleyball is the ultimate winner in the situation. Either way, an area team will get its first opportunity to play for a state championship on Saturday. Ironically, White Knoll is the host site for the four classification championship matches on Saturday.

“It is a great opportunity for my team,” said second-year WK coach Nicole Gilstrap, who is a product of the great Pickens program in the Upstate and schooled under legendary coach Peggy Anthony.

“I don’t know if anyone expected us to be here. After all, no White Knoll team had ever been past the second round before. But I saw something I’ve been waiting to see for two years the other night in Aiken – the kind of mental toughness that only see in top, confident teams.”

The Timberwolves survived a five-game, high-stakes pressure match against a Green Hornets team that had beaten them three times during the season – twice in Region 5-4A play, once in a tournament setting.

“It’s almost like the light finally went on,” said Gilstrap. “I could see it in the girls’ eyes. They didn’t get down when things weren’t going well. They simply kept playing, made adjustments and dug out a tough win.”

Gilstrap can’t wait to see if the trend continues.

“We have nothing to lose, so I’m hoping the girls play loose and leave it all out there on the court,” she said. “If we can do that, we have a chance. Lexington’s a strong team but we really haven’t done much to stand up to them in the past.”

The Timberwolves must somehow mitigate the power strokes of Lexington senior outside hitter Kellie Schmidt.

“Kellie’s a great player and she’s going to get her kills like any outstanding hitter,” said Gilstrap. “But at the same time we can’t make it easy for her if we want to have a chance. We have to step it up on defense.”

White Knoll’s top offensive threats are junior outside hitter Caitlin Bullock and sophomore middle hitter Sirya Windsor.

Both clubs have excellent, veteran setters – Lexington’s Laura Grace Swindler and White Knoll’s Sarah Barton.