Oct. 20—Perhaps no team in the state could have had a better excuse for a bad season than defending NCISAA 1A state champion Lee Christian.

The Falcons had a dominant 2020 campaign in which they romped to the title, losing just one match all year. But most of the key players off that team graduated, leaving Lee with one of the state's youngest teams playing high school varsity volleyball.

However, rather than make excuses and have a bad season, the Falcons have chosen to just play their game and have a good season. Ranked in the state's top 10 all season, this team of five middle school-age players, one freshman, two juniors and two seniors entered the state playoffs on Tuesday evening and swept visiting Woodlawn School, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23.

Seventh-seeded Lee Christian (12-6 overall) will advance to Thursday's second round, where as a seeded team, they have another home match. Lee will face Oakwood School (11-9), who beat Terra Ceia 3-1 in its playoff opener on Tuesday.

The Falcons already knew there would be a spot for them in the NCISAA playoffs when their conference tournament ended in a heartbreaking semifinal loss. However, Woodlawn (7-9-1), a school based out of Davidson, was an unknown quantity. The Trailblazers play schools from another part of the state, and about all that was for certain is that they entered the tournament ranked 15th in the state by MaxPreps.

They turned out to be a solid team with a strong service game and ability to cover the floor. Lee, on the other hand, had superior passing and setting ability. As the match went on, they had a trump card in senior outside hitter Zoey Hodges, who played like she wasn't ready to see her four years at Lee Christian come to an end.

Each set saw the teams battle evenly before Lee eventually pulled away. In set one, it was 10-10 before the Falcons went on a 5-1 run. Woodlawn won the next two points, but the rest of the set belonged to the home team, which won going away.

Set two was tougher. Lee's Zoe Deese started it with an ace and her team led 2-0, but then the Blazers ran off six in a row before Kenah Smith made a return shot that Woodlawn was unable to handle. The Falcons came charging back on a Maggie Glines ace and a rocket shot by Hodges off a Woodlawn backliner.

Lee finally pulled even at 9 when it won a long rally featuring a near-impossible play by Glines, who bumped a ball 25 feet in the other direction after hitting it on a dead run. Momentum swung to the Falcons, who got aces from Kelcey King and Smith to lead 16-12. Woodlawn got a point, but then Lee senior Erica Dodson smashed a winner through a block attempt. Brianna Brown served an ace and Lee got up six before the Blazers mounted one last rally, closing to within two points before Lee hung on to win the set 25-22.

Woodlawn again jumped ahead in set three, 5-2. The Falcons calmly bounced back, with Brown and Hodges both making big plays and smashing kills through the Blazer front line. Lee took a 14-12 lead, but Woodlawn wasn't going home without a fight. Every time Lee took a lead, the Blazers erased it. The score was tied at 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 before Elayna McFarland scored a block and Carlie Anne Nicholson made a kill as Lee surged ahead 22-19.

Again, Woodlawn refused to fold. An unforced error and two straight kills pulled the Blazers even at 23. Lee coach Tracie Bowers called a time-out to settle her team, and one of her seniors stepped up, as Dodson got to the net and rejected the same Blazer attacker who had scored the two kills earlier. At match point, Woodlawn hit a return long and the match was Lee's.

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Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Parade Salutes Heroes, Legends, Leaders


Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Parade Salutes Heroes, Legends, Leaders