FLORENCE, S.C. – West Florence was ready.
More than an hour before a preseason tournament even started Saturday, the Knights had already arrived at their home gym – with one goal in mind.
“This is our first tournament here, and for us – being the home team – we were just ready to come and win and make a name for ourselves,” West Florence junior Emmy Rollins said.
“First-ever Battle at the Kastle champions” certainly has a nice ring to it.
The host Knights swept through pool play on Saturday to grab the top overall seed for the single-elimination tournament. After topping eighth-seeded Latta and then earning a tight semifinal victory over rival South Florence, West bounced back from its only loss of the day to defeat Dillon 2-1 in the title match.
“It’s nice – I’ve never won my own tournament,” said West Florence coach Warren Coker, who also hosted the Lady Gamecock Invitational in Sumter for a number of years. “But these girls were very resilient today. It’s been a long day, and it takes some perseverance to go through what they did, especially in the final.”
West Florence hadn’t dropped a game all day entering its second matchup against Dillon, and it won the first game 25-22. But the Wildcats rallied in the second game after starting on a 10-3 run en route to a 25-18 victory to force a decisive third game.
“It was tough there,” Rollins said. “We kept getting down and down, but I just knew that my team – we’re so close, and we can rely on each other so easily that I knew it wasn’t over.
“We were going to fight back and win.”
The Knights did just that after starting off on an 8-3 run that eventually led to a 15-10 victory and a joyous celebration.
“I just told them they had to back up and see the whole picture and see the whole court and go after the holes that were given to them,” Coker said. “We finally started seeing the court a little bit better, and they made a few mistakes that helped us right there at the beginning of that big run we had.
“That was big for us.”
It was a tough ending for the third-seeded Wildcats, who looked as if they might pull off another upset against a higher-seeded foe. Dillon defeated Johnsonville, the No. 2 seed, 2-1 in the semifinals after the dropping the first game of that match as well.
“Proud of all of the players, because they worked hard and we’re still coming together,” Dillon coach Shirl Carter said. “We’re working on the lineup and trying to work things out. But everybody played their roles.
“This tells me they don’t quit. When you play hard and play all the way, you’ve got a chance against anybody.”
Rollins was named tournament MVP after finished with 47 kills overall, including seven in the final, and Alyssa Owens also garnered All-Tournament honors for West.
The Wildcats had two players make it as well in the forms of JyKya Bell and Abby Bristow.
Johnsonville’s Nyasia Graham, East Clarendon’s Rhamey Floyd, Wilson’s McKenzie McDaniel and South Florence’s Taylor Joyner were also chosen for the All-Tournament squad.
Dillon wound up winning four games in pool play to earn the No. 3 seed before defeating sixth-seeded Wilson in the quarterfinals. The Tigers won a pair of games in pool play.
The fourth-seeded Bruins won three games in pool play and earned a victory over fifth-seeded Darlington before falling 2-0 to rival West in the semifinals.
Johnsonville also didn’t drop a game until the semifinals, racking up six in pool play before beating the seventh-seeded Wolverines in the quarterfinals.