LEXINGTON, S.C. — It wasn’t supposed to end this way, watching another team get honored as champion. But there Aiken stood, together.
The Hornets lost a wild five-set match to Hillcrest, 3-2 (24-26, 25-21, 17-25, 25-21, 17-15), on Saturday at White Knoll High School in the Class AAAA state championship, falling just short of back-to-back titles.
“They have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Aiken coach Malynda Young, who later added, “These girls have inspired a lot of younger girls to take notice.”
Sam Del Toro’s ace clinched the win for Hillcrest, as Aiken twice had match point but couldn’t finish.
Throughout the night, it seemed whenever one team went on a run, the other answered.
The fifth set illustrated that, when Hillcrest seemed it would cruise, up 9-4.
But Aiken’s Anna Tovo had four kills during an eight-point run, only to see the Rams’ swings get better and harder, with Del Toro getting down two huge kills. Hillcrest later saw a championship-winning swing from Aiken miss wide.
Later, up 16-15, Del Toro served and Aiken never sent it back over.
“The feeling is unbelievable,” Hillcrest coach Lynn Avant said. “Words don’t describe it.”
In the first set, Tovo scored four consecutive points on kills and later got in another to end the back-and-forth first set, 26-24.
But Aiken’s serving game faltered early in the second set and Hillcrest’s improved hitting also hindered Aiken’s chances as the Rams won both the second and fourth sets.
The third and fourth sets were similar, in that one team went ahead early before the opponent went on a big run.
In the third, Aiken trailed 14-11 before the Hornets scored seven points in a row. Natasha Dicks led the charge, getting two kills and a block as the usually powerful hitter used placement.
Hillcrest, which won three of the four meetings this season, suffered from poor attacking, a problem that continued in the fourth set.
Leading 6-2 in the fourth, the Hornets were still up 15-13 thanks to a couple of Tyler Smith kills. Aiken was only 10 points away from another title when the Rams rattled off six in a row, and though Aiken battled back to cut it down to 21-20, a Kylie Haun kill evened the match as the Rams went on to close it out.
“We gave the program a name,” said a proud Jenni Law, who sees more Aiken success next season.