AIKEN --- Whether Jessica Ray was swinging near the net or from the back row didn't seem to matter -- James Island often had no answer for her or the other hitters.
Aiken displayed its hitting depth and strong passing all match long as the Hornets swept James Island 3-0 in the second round of the Class AAAA state volleyball playoffs. The third round is Tuesday.
"That's our offense," Aiken coach Malynda Young said. "We can hit anywhere on the court, and they don't even know where the set is going to be or where the girls are going to be."
Five players registered at least three kills as the Hornets used power and placement to hit and sideout at a high percentage. They also never trailed in any set and grabbed the lead for good by the third point in all three.
Ray, an All-State selection, posted a match-high 11 kills and even put a couple down from the back row. The senior helped Aiken start off fast in the opening set, posting a couple early kills as the Hornets jumped out to a 9-2 advantage.
James Island made a late four-point run to stretch the first set, but Ray ended it with another kill.
"Oh my gosh ... we all played so well," Ray said.
Aiken jumped out to another big lead in the second set, as the Hornets' passing and defense held the Trojans to only three runs of consecutive points.
Natasha Dicks exemplified Aiken's ball placement with a rolling kill as the home side ended the second set with a 9-3 run.
About the only aspect not working for the Aiken were the tips. The Trojans were quick to cover on them, causing Young to tell her team to hit harder.
They started doing so again, and the blocking assisted in the 8-4 run to begin the final set as Aiken controlled the net on two points in a row.
Sara King started a small James Island run to cut the deficit to 9-7, but the Trojans started hitting long and out of play as the match concluded.
James Island, with the majority of its senior class teammates since the eighth grade, tried to get the block up on the Aiken hitters, but coach Melissa Frasier said they would then just hit over the block.
"They're a strong team -- there's nothing else to say," Frasier said. "They have so many options."
That hitting depth, just like Ray's dominance, came to no surprise to Young.
In fact, Ray's strong all-around play is something Young has become accustomed to seeing every night.
"When she is on her game, she's unstoppable," Young said. "I'd vote for her as the player of the year in the state."