AIKEN — The timeout called, it was time for coach Malynda Young’s bunch to live up to its nickname put a stranglehold on the match. It was time for the “Comeback Kids” to step up.
In danger of dropping the second set after a dominant first, the Aiken volleyball team refocused and took over the match on its way to a 3-0 sweep of White Knoll (25-16, 25-19, 25-18) in the Class AAAA state playoffs Tuesday night. The Hornets will be home again Thursday night in a state semifinal.
“We’ve been talking about that a lot. They have a tendency to lose focus,” Young said. “But they have the ability to come back.”
It was the fourth year in a row that the two teams have met in the playoffs. The Hornets have won the past three times.
In the second set, Aiken fell behind 6-0, then 13-7 on a kill by White Knoll’s Lynette Johnson. But the Hornets fought back. Seven different players recorded a kill during the rally as Aiken went on a 18-6 spurt.
Tyler Smith won two points at the net, poor White Knoll passing led to overpass kills and Natasha Dicks recorded back-to-back aces during the run.
The close second set was sandwiched by easy Aiken wins in the first and third sets.
In the first, the Hornets led 8-1, as Anna Tovo used a short serve to surprise White Knoll, which never got closer than six rest of the set.
While the Timberwolves were struggling, the Hornets had great finishing as players like Courtney Law got in strong hits.
The Hornets didn’t have it quite as easy in the final set, but did win two long rallies to keep momentum. First, Emily Teelon tipped in a kill. Then, Tyler Smith and Dicks were among those to save their team during a long volley. No attacks fell to the floor, at until Dicks finished off her kill. After winning the point, she turned her head and gave a visible sigh of relief.
White Knoll closed to within 17-13, but after a timeout, Aiken caught a break when the ball hit off a light and froze two White Knoll players. That led to the stretch that clinched the match. Tovo capped off the final set with a kill.
Smith said getting the early was key, especially against a strong opponent.
“That was big for us,” she said. “In the playoffs, you find out who the champions are.”