MYRTLE BEACH — The Carolina Forest volleyball team ended its season in familiar fashion.
The top-seeded seed Panthers were eliminated in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs for the fourth consecutive year following a shutout loss (25-16, 25-21, 25-16) to four-seed White Knoll on Tuesday.
Carolina Forest was the No. 1 seed in each of those losses.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, ran a fast-paced offense and the Panthers couldn’t keep up. Despite the woes, Panthers coach Brittany Drew is still proud of her team.
“It’s the same feeling,” Drew said of the first-round defeat. “We’re in a trap of losing in the first round of the playoffs for the last four years. We’re hoping that we can keep working hard and eventually get past it. It’s disappointing, especially for the five seniors who have worked hard and played hard tonight. We just got beat by a good team and they ran a quick offense, which we aren’t used to so that definitely caught us off guard. I think we hung in there at times, so I’m proud of them.”
Carolina Forest held a 10-4 lead at one point in the second game but ended up falling 25-21 in the closest game of the night.
“We had the momentum for a while and we were putting everything together,” Drew said. “Then we let them slowly creep back up and take it from us. But that second game we had it going, we were playing really well.”
Senior Cristina Wright led the Panthers with five kills and senior Sam Barrett added four.
Now that the season has concluded, Drew must say goodbye to her senior players: Wright, Barrett, Jessica Watts, Brittany Howard and Carissa McCumber.
“Their leadership was phenomenal,” Drew said of the group. “They are a great group of girls. They accepted everybody from seventh grade all the way up and they worked hard with them. They really worked hard to bring the team together.”
Wright was named All-State this year and was named region player of the year. Both Wright and Watts were selected as players on the AAA/AAAA South All-Star team, which Drew will coach.
Entering this season, the Panthers had to deal with losing two of their key players. Setter Katie Davis, the school’s all-time leader in assists (1,080) and second in total kills (558), graduated and continued her volleyball career as a freshman at UNC Asheville. Middle hitter/blocker Sara Bane also graduated and became part of Lander University’s volleyball team.
Despite losing Davis and Bane, Carolina Forest finished with a 13-3 overall record and was undefeated in Region VI-AAAA play.
“I am very proud of the team this season,” Drew said. “We came into the season being thought of as not as strong as we were in the past. We lost two very tremendous players in Katie Davis and Sara Bane; but these girls have worked hard and shown everybody what the word team actually means and they’ve played as a team and I couldn’t have asked for a better season.”
As for next season?
“I’m going to return both of my setters, which is great, but I’m going to lose all of my defense players so that’s going to be a huge loss for us as our back row is going to be gone. I’m just looking for some people to step in and take their spots next year,” Drew said.
“We have to improve a lot on defense, picking up balls, trusting each other and just quickness.”
Drew admitted that her team could have concentrated more, but gave credit to White Knoll for its intimidating play.
“I think we could have competed a little bit harder and taken it more than three matches,” Drew said. “But, they’re a good team and they hustle. They gave it their all.
“When we get scared we kind of let down, don’t go with a lot of power and we don’t hit hard,” she added. “They hit harder than us every single time. They didn’t care if they were down or up; they kept hitting and kept pushing. We kind of let up when we got a little scared.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 444-1767.