Bishop England’s volleyball team shook off a slow start and overcame an inspired effort by Academic Magnet to advance to the Class AA Lower State finals with a 25-20, 25-14, 25-11 win.
Bishop England (29-5) is seeking a 13th consecutive state championship and will need to beat the Waccamaw/Aynor winner on the road Thursday to reach the state finals on Saturday. Another state title would be the program’s 23rd, a national record.
The Bishops entered Monday’s match having already beaten Academic Magnet fairly easily on two other occasions this season. But the Raptors made an early statement in the first set, leading most of the way until Bishop England closed strong, winning 17 of the final 25 points.
“I think we played very tight and nervous early on, but you have to give credit to Academic Magnet, too,” said Bishop England coach Cindy Baggott. “I thought they played like a team with nothing to lose. They were really loose and aggressive. They’re a good team and they earned the right to be here. We had to make some adjustments, and once we settled in, we played pretty well overall.”
Owning a clear advantage at the net in terms of size and power, Bishop England extended the run of success into the second set, quickly opening up a 13-3 lead and never letting Academic Magnet to get closer than six points throughout.
The front line of seniors Ellie James and Caitlin Beard, with help from Mary Harriet Moore and Elliott Erickson, took control. James finished with 14 kills, while Beard added 11. Julianne Dahlman tallied 23 assists.
“If you aren’t passing well, you can’t be effective at the net, and we struggled early with serve receive and getting the ball in a good position,” said Baggott. “I think in the end we were just a little stronger, a little taller at the net.”
Academic Magnet (18-6) contested well in the early stages of the third set, but again the power of James and Beard took over. Leading 10-7, Bishop England closed out the match by winning 15 of the next 19 points.
While being one step away from another shot at the crown, Baggott warns her team of overconfidence on Thursday.
“Again, whoever we play, they will have nothing to lose,” said the coach. “We have a big target on our backs. We have to show up and perform. Nothing is a given. Hopefully we can be ready mentally and physically. I think physically we were fine tonight but mentally we just weren’t where we need to be.”