Although it fell one win short of making the 2A state finals, the West Wilkes volleyball team has many reasons to hold its head high.
The Blackhawks won three state playoff games this year, and the first two victories featured back stories that made each victory a little more sweet and fulfilling.
In the opening round, West did to Maiden as the Blue Devils did to them four years earlier—the Blackhawks made it a clean sweep in three sets on their home court.
Two days later, West pulled out the brooms again for Surry Central and wrote the second chapter in its 2021 redemption story. A year earlier, also in Millers Creek, Surry had ended West’s season in the second round of the playoffs.
And a couple days after, the Blackhawks took on the formidable task of playing an undefeated team, West Stanly, on its home court, with a spot in the regional finals at stake. Once again, West Wilkes came through in the clutch, with a three-set dismissal of the Colts.
For only the second time in school history, West made the regional finals. They also accomplished the task in 2010, but this year’s appearance was against larger 2A schools.
The Blackhawks ran into a buzz saw named Foard in the regional finals, however. The Tigers lit a spark of dynamite named Michelle Thao against West. She might have been only 5-6 in stature, but her vertical leap and spiking ability gave the impression she was at least half a foot taller.
West Coach Steve Bryan called Foard the best team in the state, and not many would argue after the Tigers swept McMichael on Saturday for their second straight 2A title. Foard is an impressive 8-0 in state title games.
This year’s group of Blackhawk seniors—two-time conference player of the year (odds are great that’ll be back-to-back-to-back) Cheyenne Clonch, Jamesyn Bell, Gracie Lambert and Sophie Nichols—had unparalleled success in their four-year volleyball careers, amassing an amazing 74-2 record. That mark may stand for a long time in the Wilkes County prep annals.
Clonch had well over 1,000 kills, Bell surpassed 1,000 assists, and Lambert and Nichols were crucial elements in this year’s team chemistry. They will surely be sorely missed next year.
Clonch will be taking her volleyball talents to the next level this fall at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory. She has the most ferocious spike I’ve personally witnessed on a high school court.
West is losing a ton of experience and skill, but they’re also returning a cluster of six talented juniors. You’ve got to start with outside hitter Carson Ledford, who is without question one of the best overall athletes I’ve seen on a volleyball court.
Ledford will be teamed up with hitters Katie Nichols and Sydney Sheets, a pair of seniors-to-be with complete skill sets. Another young player to watch is 5-11 rising junior Jordan Mastin, whose sister Aaliyah Mastin is now spiking balls at Piedmont International University.
Bell won’t be easily replaced as the team’s sparkplug setter, but Bryan has many capable candidates to fill her shoes next year, including three from this year’s junior varsity team that went 12-2.
West Wilkes volleyball is still chasing that elusive first state title, but I would not count them out in 2021-22, or any year for that matter. Bryan has elevated the program on a foundation of success never before seen in Wilkes County.
I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d wager to say a state title game is just around the corner for West Wilkes volleyball.