SIMPSONVILLE — Facing the daunting task of defeating the two-time defending state champions and 65th-ranked high school volleyball team in the nation, the Nation Ford Lady Falcons came up short Tuesday night, falling to Hillcrest 3-0 (18-25, 18-25, 17-25) in the 4A Upper State playoffs semi-finals.
Hillcrest entered the match ranked No. 1 in the state with a 54-5 season record, according to MaxPreps.com. The Lady Rams dropped only two sets in its first 22 matches this season.
Still, Nation Ford head coach Carrie Christian, said before the match, “you gotta believe.”
However, the belief wasn’t enough for the Lady Falcons.
“I think we scared them a little,” Christian said, regarding Hillcrest. “We played tense. It’s hard to come in here with Hillcrest‘s legacy and get over it mentally. But I am so proud of the girls.”
The Lady Falcons were led by Jessica Kemp with 10 kills and three blocks, Amy Snyder with 15 assists and four digs, Lauren Burgess with seven digs and Ciara Heckaman with five kills and an ace.
In the opening set, Nation Ford held serve with Hillcrest as the teams matched each other during the first eight points, 4-4. Nation Ford went up 8-6, but the Lady Rams hung with the Lady Falcons and charged back rattling off five straight points to take a 11-8 lead before a Nation Ford timeout.
The break didn’t help the Lady Falcons, as Hillcrest put its foot on the gas and started pulling away, hitting precise shots at the back line and hammering the ball into the Nation Ford front line to take a 14-8 lead.
Nation Ford wasn’t intimidated as they rattled off six straight points to tie the match at 14. Another point put the Lady Falcons up and forced Hillcrest to try and regroup with a timeout.
Hillcrest took a 19-16 lead scoring three straight points and then started to pull away, going up 22-17 before closing things out.
The second set was unlike the first as the Lady Rams started 4-1. Once Hillcrest started rolling, the momentum was hard to stop as they climbed to 8-1 before Nation Ford took a timeout.
After the pause, Nation Ford played better, closed off open space and found holes in the Lady Rams’ defense, to pull the score to 11-7.
Nation Ford stayed close, but struggled to gain any real momentum or make a run as Hillcrest went up 17-11.
The Lady Rams power game at the net was too much for Nation Ford as attempted blocks by the Lady Falcons would ricochet out of bounds leading to points for the Lady Rams. Hillcrest went up 23-16 and then closed the set out moments later to take a 2-0 set lead.
Hillcrest found holes in the Nation Ford defense to start the third set, but the Lady Falcons held strong as they were tied 3-3 after the first six points.
The Lady Rams then scored five straight points to take an 8-3 lead, which prompted another Nation Ford timeout.
Hillcrest’s strength of returns then started to take over midway through the third set as they went up 12-6.
As Nation Ford would gain momentum and score two or three points in a row, mistakes would send things swinging back toward Hillcrest.
The Lady Falcons played the Lady Rams tougher in the third set after taking a timeout trailing 15-9. However, Hillcrest was too strong down the stretch and will move on to the Upper State championship Thursday against Dorman.