Bishops, Warriors vie for volleyball titles Saturday

Bishop England coach Cindy Baggott’s team is trying to win its 16th consecutive Class AA volleyball state title. Jeff Blake/File

Two Lowcountry volleyball teams will play for state championships on Saturday. It’s no surprise that one of them — Bishop England — is in the Class AA final, but Wando’s appearance in the Class AAAA championship match is surprising even to its coach, Alexis Glover.

Both teams will play at White Knoll High School in Lexington on Saturday. Bishop England will meet upper state champion Buford at 2 p.m., and Wando will play Dorman in the Class AAAA championship at 6 p.m.

Bishop England is seeking its 16th consecutive state AA championship, which would be the school’s 26th overall. The Bishops are 39-9-4 this season and have not lost a set during the state playoff run. Expectations, as usual, were high coming into the season.

“We know there will always be a few bumps in the road but our goal every year is to get to the finals,” coach Cindy Baggott said on Thursday. “But every team is different and even though we had some experience back (eight seniors), we knew we had to work. We take nothing for granted.”

Baggott says this year’s team was one of the easiest to coach during her nine seasons as head coach.

“On the court, they have been the hardest working group I’ve ever coached,” Baggott said. “This was a very unique group. I sort of let them be themselves. I stepped back a little and gave them more control in some areas and they really responded well. They’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”

Bishop England is led by a pair of all-state hitters — seniors Montana Swanson and Ashley Brazell. The duo has combined for 499 kills this season. Senior middle hitter Ashley Burns and senior libero Eliza Willburger, along with senior setter Victoria Boals, also have been key leaders on and off the floor.

Burns, who joined the program as an eighth-grader, says playing with the expectations adds pressure but she and her teammates have never viewed it as a negative.

“It’s a special place to play because of the expectations we have here,” Burns said. “We know people expect us to win and to be here every year and that motivates us a lot. It’s why we work so hard all year.”

Buford, 22-2, won the upper state title with upsets of defending upper state champion Liberty and Landrum. The Yellow Jackets have size and power along the net, led by seniors Gabby Davis (332 kills) and Autumn Rabon (230).

“You don’t get this far without being pretty good so we expect they will be a great challenge for us,” Baggott said. “They have size and they play hard. I’m impressed with what I have been able to see and find out about them.”

Wando lost five starters from last year’s state championship team but has rebuilt to post an impressive 45-5-2 record this fall. Glover, the state’s winningest coach with 888 career victories, admits to being “pleasantly surprised” at her team’s success.

“Our goal every year, from day one, is to be in the state finals but after losing five seniors, to be honest, I am surprised,” Glover said. “I am super excited about what this team has accomplished. We were able to improve a little bit each day and now we’re playing at a very high level. This group has worked really hard and I’m really proud of them.”

Junior middle Sydney DeJong (267 kills), sophomore outside Keeghan Andrews (260 kills), and senior outside Meagan Kimbrell (185 kills, 293 digs) have been three key performers. Balance, however, is the team’s strength.

Sophomore outside Lexi Hellberg, sophomore setter Karen Majewski and sophomore libero Brooke Medders have been solid and consistent as well.

“I’m a little surprised at how well this team came together,” Kimbrell said. “We’re a very close team on and off the court and we really push each other every day. We have a lot of underclassmen that really stepped up for us this year.”

Coach Paula Kirkland has led Dorman (35-3) to 11 state titles and topped the 800-win mark this season, ranking second behind Glover in career wins.

“They have very strong hitters and they are obviously well-coached and well-disciplined,” Glover said of Dorman. “It’s going to be a big challenge but we’re prepared for this. It should be a great finals.”

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