AIKEN — Tyler Smith kept going up at the net for Aiken, ready and hoping to finally put away White Knoll, when she saw an opening near the corner.
Smith connected, and not even a dive from a Timberwolves player could extend the close match any longer as the Hornets volleyball team won, 3-1 (25-13, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23), on Thursday night in a tightly contested match to win the Class AAAA Lower State title and advance to Saturday’s state championship match against Hillcrest.
“Game point, it’s time,” Smith remembers thinking as she got a block prior to finding a open spot.
The defending state champions beat the Timberwolves for the third time this season to set up a fourth meeting with Hillcrest. Aiken won one of the first three matches.
On Thursday, Smith had 10 kills as four Hornets had at least 10, led by Anna Tovo’s 15.
At the beginning, it seemed like Aiken (40-2) would cruise, as the Hornets went on a 24-8 run to end the first set. Tovo had three consecutive kills at one stretch during the run and Smith got two in a row she also helped the block dominate early. From there, the match was close throughout, thanks to a White Knoll (16-7) rally in the third set.
After the Timberwolves scored the second set’s final four points – with Siraya Windsor using great placement and tips to leave Aiken scrambling at times – the Hornets asserted themselves early in the third with an 18-8 edge.
But with Windsor and White Knoll hitting well consistently and the Hornets missing wide or long, the Timberwolves cut it down to 22-21 before a Tovo kill and Hornets blocks finally secured the set.
With her team faltering but surviving, Aiken coach Malynda Young noticed the Hornets were trying to do too much, sometimes going with too much power.
The problems were still there in the fourth set, which neither team took control of – at least not until after Windsor got in one final tip for a kill to make it 22-20 White Knoll.
But Aiken put up five of the last six points, taking advantage of an Emily Teelon ace, a block and three kills.
Smith received her chance to close the match, getting a block on one White Knoll swing before using an overpass for the opportunity to hit the ball near the back left corner.
“My team fought with so much heart,” Timberwolves coach Cindy Esposito said. “They gave me 110 percent.”