LEXINGTON – The opponent was different, however the result was the same as it was a year ago.
The Branchville volleyball team dropped the South Carolina High School League Class A state championship match, 3-1, to the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics in play at White Knoll High School on Saturday morning. The Eagles won by set scores of 25-20, 25-21, 23-25 and 25-17.
The Yellow Jackets (24-6 record) are a program that has made a habit of playing in the state title contest - appearing in the championship match 8 of the past 9 seasons. That includes finishing as runner-up a year ago against Lewisville, but also getting the better of the GSSM team to take home the championship trophy in 2016.
Saturday just wasn't the best day on the court for the Yellow Jackets against an Eagles team (13-8 record) that only had trouble scoring in one set.
"We came out flat and just weren't playing very well today," Branchville head coach Ron Nester said. "We never got past the serve and serve receive battle. They really outserved us and we didn't do well in our serve receive. That's kind of a weakness we hadn't had all year.
"I guess we didn't face teams who served as well as they did. They really served the ball well. Once we put the ball in play or kept the ball in play, I thought we were holding our own. But, it was across the board with our team, everybody was making errors. We just didn't quite have it together."
Many serves for Branchville went wide or long and out of bounds, as did many of the attack returns, all of which bolstered the Eagles' score.
Junior middle hitter Nyla Parker led the GSSM attack at the net, getting 10 kills and 5 blocks to go along with 5 service aces. Parker and outside hitter Sierra Jensen combined to give Branchville challenges all match long.
With just two seniors on the roster, the Yellow Jackets are in great position to make another run at another state title next season. On Saturday, Branchville was led by senior Danielle McAlhany with 4 kills, 12 digs and 16 receptions, senior Anna Smith with 26 digs and 26 receptions, junior Kelsey Kinard with 8 kills and 6 blocks, junior Abby Funchess with 19 assists and 11 digs, 8th-grader Brianna Wiles with 5 kills and 4 blocks.
"I think we played hard, but just not hard enough," McAlhany said. "I guess they deserved it.
"It felt good to win one set. But, it would have been a lot better if we could have put it together. I guess our nerves got us some today."
In the opening set, GSSM jumped ahead to an 11-6 lead. But Branchville surged back to tie the score at 12-12, thanks in part to a kill from Olivia Banks and a combo block kill by Funchess and Kinard. Both teams exchanged points to the 16-15 mark, where GSSM led and then went on a 6-0 scoring run, before finishing the set with a service ace from Abby Benson for the 25-20 win.
In the second set, the GSSM team started off with multiple unforced errors, sending returns into the net and out of bounds, as Branchville built a 6-2 lead. But, several service aces by the Eagles, added to a few wide returns and long serves out by the Yellow Jackets, put GSSM up 11-9. Branchville found ways to tie the set at 12-all, 13-all, 15-all and 16-all. But GSSM finished with a 9-5 scoring run, that ended with an ace from Mikey Pennell, for the 25-21 win.
In the third set, Kinard delivered an early kill for a point, before several GSSM errors gave Branchville a 7-3 lead. McAlhany then added a kill during a 4-0 scoring run, giving the Yellow Jackets a 12-9 lead. GSSM took the lead again, before ties at 16-all and 17-all. But late in the set, Eagles made multiple errors on returns and receptions, including a long, out-of-bounds kill for the 25-23 score.
In the fourth set, GSSM regrouped and got back on track, even with a kill from Kinard tying things at 10-10 early. An 8-0 scoring run gave the Eagles an 18-11 lead. From there, it was a mixture of GSSM service aces and Yellow Jacket errors that gave the Eagles the 25-17 final and the title.
"I'm not disappointed in us; our season was great," Smith said. "They had a good team over all.
"They're not any better than us, they just played better today."
Nester gave GSSM credit for playing steady with a title on the line.
"They didn't miss on many of their serves," Nester said. "Not only that, but it was the quality of their serves; they really served hard.
"That topspin was really sharp and it was eating us up, and then we didn't pass well. We'll play harder competition next year and certainly get in tournaments to get us a higher level of competition. There's a lot to be said for the competition, since they (GSSM) had a 5-setter with Dixie to get here. When we won (in 2016), we played East Clarendon to 5 sets, then played Governor's School to 5."
Both McAlhany and Smith will represent Branchville as they play in the North-South All-Star matches at Erskine College next Saturday.