All five seniors from the 2019 Region 4-4A champion Orangeburg-Wilkinson volleyball team that advanced to the second round of Upper State playoffs are going to college.
On Tuesday, the two who won all-state honors and are going to college on volleyball scholarships signed their national letters of intent at O-W to join their chosen university programs this fall.
Outside hitter and Region 4-4A Player of the Year Makayla Berry signed with Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky, a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Libero (defensive specialist) Jeneene Lewis signed with Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, a member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
O-W head volleyball coach Denolis Wright has had many of her players sign to play on the college level. But, seeing Berry and Lewis signing for their futures was special, as they did so just minutes after Wright unveiled the brand new region championship banner that will be hanging in the O-W gym soon.
"I knew these kids, in this class, would make some things happen; they've been pounding and working to make our program better from JV on through their varsity years," Wright said. "When they came in, they worked for it, even as freshmen.
"They led the offense and the defense for our team, and the two of them are best friends. So, I'm just happy for them to have these opportunities. This was our first time playing in Upper State playoffs, and we saw some good competition."
The Bruinettes (36-2 final record, 10-0 record in region play) took a 3-1 home playoff win against Blue Ridge in the first round this past season, before falling 3-0 to Daniel. Berry, Lewis and their class leave the O-W program enjoying success on the Class 4A level of play. Now, the powerful hitter at the net and the defensive specialist are taking their games to the college court.
Berry led O-W in 2018 with 40 kills, while Lewis led with 41 service receptions and 57 digs.
Both players were recruited by Claflin University's volleyball program, along with Fayetteville State. Both wanted to leave Orangeburg for college and face new challenges. Berry is going to play in the conference Claflin left in 2018, while Lewis is going to face Claflin in regular CIAA play.
Despite being a dominant net player and winning region player of the year honors, Berry wasn't sure she would get many opportunities to play in college.
"The visit I had to Kentucky State was nice, the campus is big," Berry said. "It's kind of far away, 7 hours away, but it felt like a home away from home.
"It felt like a place I could concentrate on books and volleyball. Leaving after winning the region title, it felt really good for us to get it done as seniors."
KSU went 23-22 in 2018, winning 3 of their 5 games in the SIAC Volleyball Championship Tournament. Berry says she expects to fit with the team well and have the opportunity to play in the rotation on the front line right away.
"I'm excited," Berry said. "I'll just have to work a little harder and try to beat everybody out.
"I'll do everything I need to do to get ready to be on that court and playing. I never thought I would be playing on the next level. But, as the time got closer, I wanted to have this opportunity and see how I can play on that level."
Lewis considered hanging up her volleyball sneakers and not playing the sport in college once O-W won the region title and her high school playing days were over. But, her first visit was Johnson C. Smith and she knew that the Charlotte campus was the place for her.
"I was going to visit Fayetteville State to, but after I visited Johnson C. Smith, that was it, I knew that's where I wanted to go," Lewis said. "After the break from high school volleyball, I realized how much I missed playing and I started playing club volleyball again.
"I thought then that maybe I should continue. The team at Johnson C. Smith is really friendly, but competitive. They scrimmaged while I was there and I liked what I saw. I need to be more competitive and show what I can do and work my way into the lineup. From middle school on, I knew I wanted to play volleyball in college. So, today really is a dream come true. But, now it's no time to rest. I've got to start working out more and getting ready for the college game."