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O-W vs. Branchville volleyball

Orangeburg-Wilkinson sophomore Alaina McCants (4) and junior Ka’tia Wright (17) make a play at the net against Branchville’s Heidi Edwards (4) and Josie Jones (10, at net) during a match at Branchville earlier this season. Both O-W and Branchville begin state playoffs this week, hosting first-round matches the next two nights.

Genie Fogle — the former Elloree High volleyball coach who took the helm of the Lake Marion program during consolidation (of Elloree and Holly Hill-Roberts high schools) in 2005 — is enjoying the season her Lady Gators are having.

In Fogle’s final season coaching Elloree, her team won the region championship and made it to the Lower State finals, where they were one match point away from making the state finals. Johnsonville, a current Region 7-2A rival of Lake Marion, won that match and advanced.

So, it’s understandable that after finishing second in the region “two or three times” through the years at Lake Marion — according to Fogle — this season’s Region 7-2A title win for the Lady Gators has been something to celebrate. It is the first region championship for Lake Marion volleyball. Only one season, in 2011, has Lake Marion missed making the playoffs. That demonstrates the build-up process that has gone into making this a special season.

The team’s hard work and strong season resulted in Fogle being named Region 7-2A Coach of the Year, junior LaQuyin Smalls being named Region 7-2A Player of the Year and Smalls’ teammates Jasmine Jamison (a senior all-state player) and senior libero Swanza Butler making the all-region team with her.

That doesn’t mean Lake Marion is satisfied with having the title, the individual accolades and hosting a first-round playoff match tonight against Aynor at 6 p.m.

The Lady Gators (10-6 overall, 9-1 in region) are looking to make a deep run in playoffs and represent their region well, especially after winning against established playoff contenders Johnsonville and Timberland to become region champs.

“We’ve lost at Waccamaw the last two years, so it’s a great thing to start playoffs at home,” Coach Fogle said on Tuesday. “We played Waccamaw well in playoffs, so that showed our team that we can do this and compete in playoffs.

“But, we were up and down early in the season.”

Fogle believes the turning point that got the Lady Gators moving forward was losing the first region match at home to the Lady Flashes of Johnsonville. From there, Lake Marion’s team went unbeaten in their final nine region matches.

“We played tough, but lost, and realized that if we could cut down on mistakes we could be in this,” Fogle said. “I asked former Branchville coach Starr Bright to help us with defense. She told us that we had the potential to win a state championship with the team we have.

“Coming from the coach who was the top coach in this area for many years, it meant a lot. That helped the girls push to get even better. And, with just four seniors, the future is bright here.”

Fogle admits that it is tempting to look ahead at the possibility of playing teams like Bishop England later in the Class 2A playoff bracket. But, for now, the Lady Gators are focusing on one match at a time.

“We are happy about winning region, but we aren’t looking far ahead,” Fogle said. We have absolutely no idea what Aynor has coming in here (Wednesday night).

“Our girls are just focused on ourselves and playing like we are capable of playing.”

Another T&D Region coach who is excited about how her team is playing entering playoffs is Orangeburg-Wilkinson volleyball coach Denolis Wright.

The Lady Bruins are 30-6 overall, after having just three losses in Region 8-3A play. They are scheduled to play host to Brookland-Cayce at 6 p.m. on Thursday in a Class 3A first-round playoff match.

O-W finished in second place in the region standings, behind region champion Hilton Head, for the second straight year. What is impressive about that is the fact that when the Lady Bruins team made playoffs just three years ago, it was the first time in about 30 years that O-W volleyball had made the playoffs.

Wright has helped build the Lady Bruins' program up with the help of club volleyball, a season that starts after the high school season ends and lasts into April.

“Club volleyball is a great experience and it’s something many other high school programs had been involved in before we started with it,” Wright said. “Now, about 90 percent of my kids in the program go on to play club volleyball.

“So, going from finishing fourth in region three years ago to back-to-back second-place finishes, it has obviously helped.”

Wright has enjoyed watching her team mature as a program in recent years.

“It’s been really great; at first we were getting better and we could compete, but we could never finish,” Wright said. “But this group I have now, they’ve learned how to finish.

“This group is a group of fighters, who won’t give up after losing a set or even the first two sets.”

With just four seniors on the roster, Wright has a young core group to continue working with, regardless of how deep the Lady Bruins go in playoffs this season.

“Two of our players already have several (NCAA) Division I college offers,” Wright said. “We’ve had players who have been out with injury or illness throughout the season.

“But, other girls step in and step up, and we’ve been able to keep playing well and keep winning.”

Senior libero Tia Peeples is a team leader who Wright says “controls the court, letting the other girls know where to swing and where the ball will be coming."

Freshman outside hitter Makayla Berry was injured for a major portion of the season, but is back playing with the team.

Junior outside hitter Ka’tia Wright helps power the offense and is a player who Wright says “can do everything.”

Senior middle hitter Amari Grevious missed a good bit of the season dealing with an illness, but has been back for more than a week and is ready to help her team. At 6-foot-4, Grevious is a great blocker who Wright says “is our defense.”

Complete with junior outside hitter Asha Simpson and a back row rotation that includes sophomore Meagan Greene, freshman Jeneene Lewis and sophomore Jayla Hill, the Lady Bruins are ready for what the challenges of playoffs might bring.

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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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