South Pointe volleyball players remember Chaella Woodson for brightening their days
Chaella Woodson wasn’t in the South Pointe volleyball starting lineup Tuesday night when the Stallions took on Eastside in the second round of the 4A state playoffs.
Woodson’s parents, Dino and Natosha, and her sister Jayda, took her place. It was too much for South Pointe coach David Deyton to handle. Feeling like he might faint, he stepped outside of the gym to collect himself in the cool fall air.
Woodson died in a car crash Oct. 26 that also injured four others, including another South Pointe volleyball player, Jai Russell. Woodson would have turned 17 years old on Nov. 4. Instead, her funeral is set for Nov. 3.
South Pointe junior All-Region players Halle Wilson and Kayt Houston said Thursday morning that Woodson was a shining light for the team. She had a secret handshake with each team member and always knew what to say to inflate a friend’s spirit when they were in the dumps.
Missing their spirited spark-plug, the Stallions got an unexpected lift for Tuesday’s match at Eastside.
There were close to 30 South Pointe students at the match, but also more than 20 volleyball players from Rock Hill High and Northwestern’s programs, and close to the same number of parents attended the game almost two hours away. Many wore black or light blue shirts that read “Fly High 11,” a reference to Woodson’s volleyball jersey number. Northwestern’s team made cards for South Pointe players and also provided a team meal for the bus ride to Eastside.
“I have been really proud of how the community has come together in may different ways to support South Pointe,” said Northwestern coach Megan Perry. “I cannot imagine what their players, coaches, and parents must be feeling at this time.”
Susan Meadows’ Eastside team did not play well Tuesday night. The emotion of the occasion was difficult to navigate, especially for a home crowd that was unsure of how much to cheer against the suffering visiting team.
Meadows found out about Woodson’s death from Rock Hill High coach Cindy Elder. Meadows and Elder are coaching in an all-star game together and Woodson figured that was what Elder was calling about last Saturday morning. When Meadows heard the news, “cold chills went all of my body,” she said.
Her players were especially touched by the news. They made posters supporting South Pointe’s team and Woodson’s parents. They gathered the teams together before Tuesday’s match and prayed on the court with Woodson’s parents.
Then there was a playoff volleyball match to play.
Eastside had too much for the Stallions in the first set, cruising to an easy 25-8 win. Deyton’s team scrapped in the second set, falling 25-22, before rallying to win the third set behind big cheers from their supporters in the stands. Meadows said the environment finally resembled a playoff match in that much louder third set as the home crowd’s comfort with the situation increased. The energy provided a bit of normalcy on an abnormal night.
“Whenever we got that 25th point I think everybody was just thinking about Chaella, thinking about Jai, and doing this for them,” said Houston.
“It was one of the best moments of my life, probably,” said Wilson. “Everybody cheering and just knowing we pulled out a game for them. No matter what happened the next set, it felt like a win right there.”
The Eagles put the match away in the fourth set to advance in the 4A state playoffs, ending South Pointe’s season.
“I’m completely exhausted today,” Meadows said Wednesday. “I’m sure they are. They were playing on their emotions the fourth set.”
Deyton was also exhausted, in every way possible. He took Wednesday off and still looked worn down Thursday morning. With the volleyball season over, South Pointe’s players and coaches will shift into a more individual phase of grieving for Woodson.
Lance Cpl. Gary Miller said the crash that happened around 2 p.m. Friday on Heckle Boulevard just outside the Rock Hill city limits remains under investigation by the S.C. Highway Patrol major Accident Reconstruction Team.
Troopers said that the car driven by a juvenile in which Woodson was a passenger collided with two other cars heading in the opposite direction.
The investigation is not complete and could take several weeks, Miller said. No charges have been filed in the case. Prosecutors with the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s office will be presented the crash investigation information when it is completed to determine if any charges would be filed, Miller said.
But investigations or potential causes of the accident were far from anyone’s mind on the court at Eastside High School Tuesday night. After the match, Eastside’s 31-year coach, Meadows, presented Deyton and his players with t-shirts that said “South Pointe Strong,” and “Eastside volleyball” written on the sleeves.
T-shirts last longer than flowers, and kind gestures can outlast both. Tears flowed from everyone, big chunky ones, like raindrops almost.
It was just the latest in an outpouring of support that has uplifted Deyton and his players, and Woodson’s family and friends. There was a tribute to Woodson prior to the South Pointe-York football game Monday night, and South Pointe region opponent, Westwood High School, raffled off a gift basket to raise money for Woodson’s parents. That coupled with the clear and full-hearted backing of Northwestern, Rock Hill and Eastside’s volleyball programs Tuesday night was “more than we could have ever asked for,” said Deyton.
“It is remarkable that they found the strength to play at all, and they played really well,” said Rock Hill’s coach, Elder. “I hope we brought them some joy by supporting them.”