The Eagles Volleyball team went to Lexington on Saturday and brought back the 3rd team state championship trophy to be earned by the school in a year. Facing lower-state champs Branchville High School in the finals, the Eagles were eager to repay the Yellowjackets for a loss in the 2016 championship round.
After the win, GSSM athletics director and interim volleyball coach Hugh O'Connor told the team and fans that schools around the state always knew that Govies were champions in the classroom, but now they are learning that they can win on fields and courts. Stepping in to coach the last couple of games of the season, and then through the playoff rounds, the coach said he was hanging up his volleyball coach's whistle with a perfect record, "I am now the undefeated (and retired) Women's State Championship volleyball coach. I am fortunate to be a member of the GSSM team."
Team captains Mikey Pennell and Layne Scopano led the Eagles to take the first two sets 25-20, 25-21 from a determined and skilled Branchville High School Squad. High quality blocking and kills from Branchville kept things close and unforced Eagle errors gave new life to the Yellowjackets as they took the third set 23-25. The fourth match was tense early, with lead changes and tight scoring until the Eagles pulled away after an 8-0 streak powered by blistering serves from Nyla Parker, Brynn Sion, and Mikey Pennell. They finished off the set and the match 25-17.
GSSM's 7th Man arrived just after the first serve to answer a large, enthusiastic Branchville cheering section. More than 100 fans chanted loudly and stormed the court at the end of the match. A caravan of buses arrived back in Hartsville to be greeted by a police escort back to campus. Once downtown, the fire department's ladder truck fired a water canon across the road and onto the buses, thrilling the team, fans, and parents who were following.
After a pizza party on back at campus, Coach O'Connor sent his thanks to the school:
"Today our Eagle volleyball team won the State Championship. Our young women went out and did their team and their school proud.
I want to thank our faculty for supporting our student athletes.We see you in the crowds and it matters.
Thank you to our administrators for the backing you consistently provide.
Thank you to the staff. The dining facility, the maintenance team, Student Life, the art and music teams, the nurses, and the school law dog team are all vital and valued components of the GSSM family. You all contribute to both the academic and athletic success of our students. This win could not have been possible without you.
Student fans - cheerleaders, spirit squad, and every student who sat in the stands and cheered - you are the heart of the Eagles - never quit!
A special thanks to my staff in the athletic department for your efforts and commitment and to Coach Santos for your expertise and patience - you will always be an Eagle!
And, of course, thanks to the team - the girls themselves as well as our team managers, line judges and our CE kids. Girls, proved to yourselves what you are capable individually and as a team."
GSSM congratulates the Branchville squad for a strong season and well-played match and would like to thank the City of Hartsville, especially the Police Department and Fire Department, for welcoming our students and families so warmly when they returned to town.
Pictured above: 2018 1A State Volleyball Champions.