COLUMBIA - Back in early August, Jennifer Fort was excited to begin her tenure as the junior varsity volleyball coach at Oceanside Collegiate.
By the end of August, Fort was thrust into a role as the head varsity coach. On Nov. 6, Fort and her Landsharks won the Class AAA state championship.
Oceanside Collegiate, making its fourth consecutive state finals appearance, swept Upper State champion Wren in three games to finally take the next step. Oceanside Collegiate won 25-21, 25-16, 25-10.
Fort, still listed as the interim head coach, has had to pinch herself more than once to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.
“It’s incredible, almost unbelievable what this team accomplished this season,” said Fort, who came to Oceanside from Palmetto Christian Academy. “It really has been flying by the seat of our pants since August. We had so many challenges, not just with the coaching change but also with some COVID issues early in the season. We got hit from all sides early.
“These girls just somehow found a way to remain focused. We refused to let the outside distractions affect us. Volleyball practice and the games became a safe haven, and these girls just rose to the challenge. I could see us gaining confidence as the season went on. They started to believe they could win.”
Fort had a handful of players who had experienced the disappointment of finishing second over the last three years. The Landsharks lost three times during the regular season to perennial power Bishop England, only to avenge defeat with a five-set win over their rivals in the Lower State final on Nov. 2.
On Saturday, the will to win and finish the job was much stronger.
“I think their mindset was, “ 'We are done finishing second,’ ” Fort said. “We played very well, very sharp. I can’t imagine us playing any better than we played today.”
Senior Emma Kerce led the Landsharks with 12 kills in the finals. Freshman setter Lexi Duplessis tallied 36 assists, and junior Leah Schilpp was strong at the net with three blocks. Junior Anna Smith anchored the defensive effort in the back with 10 digs.