AIKEN — Her coach could see it. Everyone could see it. With each dig and kill, a tired and red-faced Anna Tovo kept fighting, as did her teammates.
The Hornets volleyball player, who overcame a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament to return this season, stood tall in the fifth set as Aiken won at home against Wando, 3-2 (23-25, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 15-13), on Thursday night to advance to Saturday’s Class AAAA state championship match. It will be Aiken’s third appearance in the final in as many seasons.
“It feels awesome, going back to state,” Tovo said. “I’m speechless.”
At one stretch in the fifth set, Tovo scored five of her team’s seven points to give the Hornets the 12-10 edge.
The Warriors cut it to a single point three times after that, but Tyler Smith and Emily Teelon got a huge block to help keep the Hornets in front.
Then, after coming up clutch late so often during the night, Wando made a crucial mistake on match point. After Aiken hit the ball over, the ball fell in near a few Wando players due to miscommunication – Aiken would get a chance to win its second state crown in three years.
Aiken (29-9) had to win the final two sets due to Wando’s late-set success. In the first set, the Warriors closed on a 11-5 run that finished with a Mackenzie Lesemann kill; set three went eerily similar with another 11-5 spurt and a Lesemann kill to seal it. Even when Aiken won, Wando pushed the Hornets, going on a 6-0 run in the second set before an Aiken block made the set safer for the Hornets.
However, Aiken had the strong finish in the fourth and then the fifth set, as it trailed 10-8 and was five points from defeat.
But Tovo, who had 27 kills, was in the midst of her run where she was fed the ball repeatedly. Not every swing was a kill, but Tovo’s combination of power and placement extended plays.
Aiken had grabbed an early fifth-set lead behind a block from Natasha Dicks and Smith — Smith had seven on the night — and some bad hits from Wando.
When it seemed Wando would find a way to keep the last set going, two Aiken blocks and the miscue finally ended the match and allowed the players to rush the court and hug each other.
One more to go.
“This one, to me, is as exciting as that first one was,” a grinning Aiken coach Malynda Young said about making it to the state final for the third year in a row.