After winning the first set by 18 points, it seemed like Ninety Six was going to sleepwalk its way to its third region win of the season.
But once the second set started, Ninety Six struggled, falling behind by three points before it even had a chance to serve.
From then on, the match was full of emotion, hard spikes and plenty of blocks. The Wildcats won the match in four sets, but each set nearly went the distance.
“I feel like what changed was our enthusiasm and our tempo,” Ninety Six coach Chandler Wells said. “We won that first set by such a large margin that they kind of got complacent. We had that conversation of ‘You can’t let up on your opponent ever.’ We just had to get our energy back and reset.”
Abbeville raced out to an early lead in the second set, but as Ninety Six started to reset, the score started to shift. Plays at the net were finding holes against it, slowly started to get blocked enough by the front line that the two teams created rallies that would last for four or sometimes five passes over the net.
Despite the valiant comeback, the Panthers claimed the second set 27-25.
Ninety Six won the next two sets. In both sets, the Wildcats jumped ahead, only to be forced to withstand a Panther comeback. The difference was the ability for Ninety Six to spread out its attacking shots.
Instead of just tunneling through sophomore Janiyah Squire, who still finished with 27 kills in the win, the Wildcats attacked with Kinsley Thomas, Brooke Coster and Taylor Rinehart, who combined for 15 kills in the match.
“I had several girls that were swinging good tonight,” Wells said. “That was a conversation that I had with my setters, just making sure that they’re mixing up those sets, because if one girl is getting blocked, you can’t keep going to the same one over and over again. You have to mix it up. We can’t ever be complacent.”
While the front line was finding ways to score the points, Wells highlighted Coster and libero Kaylee Hughes who were setting up the Wildcat offense. The pair combined for 24 on-target passes that led to high-percentage scoring opportunities.
With the win, Ninety Six improves to 3-0 in region play. It will be at home Thursday when it takes on Saluda.
“It feels really good, but we always want more. We want better,” Wells said. “We always talk about how we play. We’re not going to play any other way than Wildcat way, and we’re working on playing the Wildcat way. Just making sure that we’re playing our game, not playing up or down to any competition.”
#HustonstrongWhile it lost a tightly contested match on the court, Abbeville might have made its biggest impact off the court Tuesday night.
Huston Stevenson is a middle schooler living in Anderson, but was recently in a serious car accident at Wren High School. His mother, Jennifer, and father, Todd, graduated from the Lakelands, attending Dixie High School and Abbeville High School, respectively.
To help then family out, Abbeville senior Michaela Harrison approached coach Ann Marie New and Abbeville Athletic Director Maggie Jameson with a fundraising idea.
“I saw some Facebook posts on him and said ‘I have to do something for this boy,’” Harrison said. “Today, he was actually transferred to physical therapy, so he started that today. I just wanted to get a fundraiser together and send them from the community. “
Before playing in their match, the Panthers were dressed in blue shirts with the words #Hustonstrong etched across the front. New was wearing hers throughout the match. Alongside the shirts, Harrison and junior Jose Evans wore blue and gold ribbons in their hair.
There were also a couple of posters spread throughout the gym in support of Stevenson, which were made by New’s P.E. class that day.
Harrison’s mother’s Venmo, Pay-Pal and Cashapp were all used in the fundraiser, while the concession stand money was also donated.