By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Prior to 2016, the Woodruff volleyball program had won just two region championships in its history. Now, the Lady Wolverines enter the 2020 playoffs having won three regions titles in a row and four in the past five seasons.
Led by a star-studded group of seniors, Woodruff blitzed through their Region III-3A slate this season with a perfect 10-0 record. Along the way the Lady Wolverines defeated Chapman twice, a team that in year’s past had been a stumbling block for the Lady Wolverines, albeit in non-conference play.
Woodruff now looks to build on a wave of momentum that has been growing for the past three seasons and compete for an elusive state championship.
“These past three years our teams have been really good,” said senior middle hitter Maddie Grace Runyans. “I hope we can go really far in the playoffs. It’s different this year but I believe we can go really far.”
The difference referenced by Runyans is the postseason being shortened by one round this year, with only two teams from each region qualifying for the postseason. The Lady Wolverines drew a matchup with Blue Ridge, the number two seed from Region II, in the first round.
Brooke Bailey, a fellow senior middle hitter alongside Runyans, has been a long-time varsity starter. Bailey said it has been hard knowing that hers and the careers of her fellow seniors is quickly coming to an end, but she is proud of the accomplishments they have achieved over the years.
“It’s very bittersweet,” said Bailey. “But we get to wrap things up playing with people I have played with a long time so that is special. We want to go out there and win and continue to make memories.”
Woodruff head coach Heather Abrams praised her team and the seven seniors leading it for helping to compose a new, successful chapter in the history of Woodruff volleyball.
“Winning the region title for three straight years is writing Woodruff volleyball history,” said Abrams. “Although this is the first time it has been done, I hope it is not the last. Brooke and Abigail (Linder) have been on the varsity team since ninth grade. Their region record for their high school career is 38-2. This group of seniors is very talented and have been playing together for a while. Five of them have been playing on the varsity team together since their sophomore year. Talent and time are great contributors to their success.”
The Lady Wolverines have been the beneficiaries of contributions at all levels, both along the front and back lines. Bailey leads the team in kills with 123 while Runyans and senior Lillie Rhodes have notched 79 and 78 respectively. Setter Abigail Linder has put together a sensational season along the back line with 23 service aces and 298 assists and libero Sarah Chiffon has been among the best in the area with 214 digs.
The Lady Wolverines’ program has been one built on the concept of team play and the sum of all its parts. That, added Bailey, has been a driving force behind the team’s success on the court.
“Our mindset is, be a team and that will take us further than any individual,” Bailey said. “It brings me back to the phrase that iron sharpens iron. We keep getting stronger and stronger and that’s what Woodruff is all about. When we win one (match) we want to come back even better and win another and another.”
The drive to succeed and will to win of this Lady Wolverine volleyball team is strong and has been for years as this season’s seniors have worked to carry a program on the rise to new heights.
Now, all Woodruff needs is to finally break through. Abrams knows her team is capable.
“When this group works together as one unit with the same drive and determination, they are a force to be reckoned with,” Abrams said.
Runyans agreed with her coach. “If we play together, work together, and stay together as a team then it’s going to be crazy what we can do,” she said.