AIKEN --- The Aiken Lady Hornets' hopes for a state championship were dashed Tuesday night at the hands of a Region 5-AAAA rival they dominated twice during the regular season.
White Knoll, which lost to Aiken by a score of 3-1 in two previous meetings, ended the Lady Hornets' season 22-25, 25-23, 14-25, 25-18, 15-8 in front of a boisterous crowd in the South Carolina Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
The loss was only the third this season for the Lady Hornets (25-3). The Timberwolves advanced to the Lower State final, where they will meet Lexington, the only other team to beat Aiken this year. The Wildcats twice beat the Lady Hornets.
"The ball didn't bounce our way," said Aiken coach Malynda Young. "We were the better team. We should have won but we didn't. So we'll live it and go for it next year."
The Lady Hornets looked like the stronger squad early in the match, coming out of the gates to take the first set.
Aiken managed to snuff out several White Knoll rallies using its powerful front line led by senior Kiki Hennessey, who finished with 15 kills, and sophomore Jenni Law, who racked up 13.
The third-ranked Hornets took control of the second set as well, leading by as many as six points. That's when White Knoll showed its feistiness, riding an 8-1 run to get back in the set and eventually hold on to win it.
Brushing off the comeback, Aiken blew away White Knoll in the third set, 25-14, and appeared to have command of the match.
Once again, the fifth-ranked Timberwolves (22-8-1) refused to lie down. Junior middle hitter Brianna Wise wreaked havoc inside, finishing kill after kill and leading a 10-3 run to close the fourth set and force a fifth.
A flustered group of Lady Hornets stumbled through the final set and were forced to watch as White Knoll and its hoards of fans from Lexington, S.C., celebrated.
"(White Knoll) came out so strong and they wanted it more than we did, and I wanted it so bad," said Hennessey, an All-State selection.
Reach Joey Jones at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.