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Branchville junior middle blocker Jordan Smith (13) blocks a return by East Clarendon's Jada Welch (13) during Monday's Class A Lower State Championship match in Turbeville. Branchville plays Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo for the state title.

For the sixth time in seven seasons, the Branchville volleyball team will be playing in the SCHSL Class A state title match.

The Lady Jackets are 30-6 and coming off a come-from-behind 3-2 tiebreaker win in the Lower State Championship at East Clarendon on Monday.

They will face the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (from Hartsville) on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo.

Both teams entered the playoffs as No. 1 seeds, having won their respective region titles. The Lady Eagles of GSSM swept Lewisville, 3-0, for the Class A Upper State title on Monday.

The great news for Branchville is that the St. Joseph’s Catholic team from the Upstate is no longer waiting in the state title match every season. They won the past five Class A state titles.

With realignment this year, St. Joseph’s was moved into the Class 2A ranks, and just so happens to be scheduled to play Academic Magnet for the 2A title after the Lady Jackets finish their title match.

“Our older, more experienced girls stepped up (against East Clarendon) to help carry the younger girls and help us win lower state,” Branchville head coach Ron Nester (in his seventh season with the program) said. “This (state title match) is something we should be ready for, especially after a tough test (in lower state).”

On Monday in a small gym in Turbeville full of screaming students and fans, where the temperature only got warmer as the match wore on, the Lady Jackets rebounded from dropping the first two sets to win the last three and return to the championship round.

“Our setter came over to me after the third set and said we are starting to pass better,” Nester said. “We had been returning the ball back into the net and making mistakes more than usual.

“But we finally started bringing those passes off the net. It made a world of difference, just getting it to our setter to do what she does and distribute it where we need it to go. That got our offense going.”

Branchville has just two seniors on the roster, and Josie Jones is the only one who plays considerable minutes. Jones was named this week to the Class 1A/2A/3A roster to play in the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association North/South Volleyball all-star matches on Nov. 18 and 19.

Jones, a middle blocker, along with junior outside hitter Lynasia Felder, junior libero Madison Leggett, junior setter Cassidy Jacobs, sophomore outside hitter Danielle Mcalhany and freshman right side hitter Abby Funchess are fully prepared to bring a long-awaited state title back home to Branchville.

The Lady Jackets program has been a perennial challenger for a Class A state title, having lost to St. Joseph’s in the state title match in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Before that, Branchville fell to Southside Christian in the 2010 state title match.

Even with a young squad heading to state, Nester believes this team is prepared from past seasons in junior varsity and varsity play -- along with the strong schedule it played this season -- to adjust to any challenge it faces from GSSM.

"We're excited and ready to see what's there for us at state," Felder said after collecting 22 digs and 15 kills in the lower state title match in Turbeville. "I hope we take home the trophy."

Perhaps it was a good sign on Monday when late in the match a Lady Jackets return knocked out a gym light with a glancing blow. Branchville played lights-out volleyball the rest of the match, giving the team good momentum heading into the state title match.

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Contact the writer: cclark@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5553.

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Sports Editor

Orangeburg County native Chris Clark is a graduate of North Greenville University and Coker College and played baseball for both. He worked at The Morning News and The Dillon Herald prior to joining The T&D.

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