High School Sports

Can top-ranked Nation Ford volleyball win a 5A state title? It’s time to find out

High expectations are nothing new for the Nation Ford Falcons’ volleyball program, but this year, those expectations are a little higher than normal.

At 38-6-1, Nation Ford is ranked No. 1 in South Carolina by MaxPreps in all classifications. MaxPreps also has the Falcons ranked 82nd in the nation, but head coach Carrie Christian said she isn’t interested in those rankings, because it’s not what she would consider official.

Nation Ford still has two matches left before the state playoffs commence Oct. 25. Already with a school record 38 wins this season, the Falcons could enter the playoffs with 40 wins after a tri-match against River Bluff and Lexington Oct. 22. Nation Ford will be looking for its second state title in the sport, the first coming in the 2010 season as a 3A school.

Check out the SCHSL 5A volleyball state tournament bracket

The Falcons opened the season winning their first 20 matches, including several in their own tournament, the Nation Ford Invitational. They hit a road block at the Dorman tournament in mid-September, going 4-4 in that event. Nation Ford faced teams they will most likely encounter when the playoffs start, including the two-time defending state champion Dorman Cavaliers and potential Lower State winner Wando Warriors.

“It was a turning point in the season for us,” Christian said. “We learned a lot there. We have been on an upswing ever since.”

Wando and Dorman both beat Nation Ford in that tournament. But the Falcons were able to get some revenge on Dorman by beating them at the Southern Invitational tournament in Georgia later in the season. It was at the same tournament, where they lost to T.L. Hanna, another potential playoff foe they may have to face in the coming weeks. But just like Dorman, the Falcons were able to see Hanna again at the Wando Invitational about a week ago, and beat the Yellow Jackets in the finals of the tournament.

The only way Nation Ford would see Hanna or Dorman in the playoffs would be in the Upper State championship match, though Hanna and Dorman would first have to potentially face each other in the third round.

“We have beaten them all handily and have also lost to them all as well,” Christian said. “We have lost to everyone we could face in the playoffs. We keep it in the back of our minds. We know we have to show up and play our game.”

One thing Nation Ford has going for them in the playoffs is their depth. This year’s team has just two seniors in Camryn McDonagh and Gretchen Fischer and is loaded with eight juniors, which could be key in coming back next season for another deep playoff run.

Sophie Fischer is one player that most teams key in on Christian said, due to her reputation. Just a junior, Fischer has already verbally committed to the University of North Carolina and recorded her 1,000th kill this season, long before her senior year begins. Still it’s more than just one player that the Falcons have been relying on.

“We have been getting teams out of their systems,” Christian said. “We have a lot of options to put the ball away in players like Sophie (Fischer), Hannah (Neff) and Emily (Lammers). Hannah is really a sleeper on the right side and Emily comes out of nowhere. She is quiet and has so many shots she can take.”

The 5A bracket ensures that Nation Ford will be at home for at least the first two rounds. But after that, it gets murky.

“We could have to travel and that is not in our advantage,” she said. “Right now, I feel good about the bracket.”

Playing on the road is where the mental aspects of things come into play, McDonagh said.

“A lot depends on how we do mentally as a team,” she said. “We have to be prepared mentally.”

The Falcons easily wrapped up the Region 3-5A title this season going 8-0 in region play. McDonagh credits Christian for getting the team to where it is now and for making them as strong as they are.

“Practice has gotten us to be more disciplined as a team,” McDonagh said.

Nation Ford opens the playoffs Thursday, Oct. 25 at home against Easley.

Mac Banks: mbanks@comporium.net, @MacBanksFM