FLORENCE — The Wilson Warriors volleyball team knows what it feels like to get to the state tournament. They just don’t know what it feels like to win it. But if last weekend’s performance at the Guntersville Invitation Volleyball Tournament is any indication, this might be the year the Warriors get over the hump.
Wilson, the No. 3 ranked team in the state in Class 4A, defeated three top 10 teams in three different classifications, including a 2-0 victory over Grissom, the No. 3 ranked team in Class 6A. The Warriors also defeated Class 4A Alabama Christian and Class 5A Boaz before being eliminated by Guntersville, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 4A.
“It was an exciting weekend for us,” Wilson coach Sandy Bradley said. “It was good for us to play so many top caliber teams. That sets the bar for how far we need to improve to get back to the postseason.”
The Warriors have made a home at the state tournament the past few years, but it will be more difficult to get back there this season thanks to a new playoff format, which includes super regionals.
The top 16 teams in the north and south regions will participate in a super regional, with only four teams advancing out of the super regional to go to the state tournament.
“There are probably eight or nine ranked teams in this region and only four of them will make it to state,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of good teams we are going to have to beat, which is why we wanted to play the caliber of teams we are going to see in the super regionals.”
While beating Alabama Christian and Boaz was nice, the highlight was the 2-0 victory over Grissom.
“Beating the No. 3 team in Class 6A gave the girls a lot of confidence,” Bradley said. “It showed them that if they play their game, they can beat anybody in the state.”
A big reason for Wilson’s outstanding season is the play of its two hitters, senior Ciarra Edwards and junior Lexie Bradley. Bradley led Wilson with 41 kills and 27 digs in the tournament while Edwards had 48 kills.
And the duo is accomplishing all of that while opponents are focusing all their energy on defense to stop them by double and even triple-blocking them.
“They’ve had to make a lot of adjustments this season,” Bradley said. “They’ve learned to put the ball in areas of the court that is not part of their natural swing. We’ve also been working on speeding up the offense, to get the ball up quicker to beat the block. They have learned to be really smart hitters and be aware of what areas are open on the court.”
Lexie Bradley said playing club volleyball during the summer helped with improving that area of her and Edwards’ game.
“We really have focused on hitting and blocking,” she said. “We work on blocking each other and hitting around each other’s blocks. The other players on the team also work with us, which really helps us out.”
And both Lexie Bradley and Edwards say that teamwork, including the outstanding defense of Jennifer Schroeder and passing of Brianna Terrell, is the major reason why this year’s Wilson team has a chance to not just make it back to the state tournament, but win it as well.
“You can’t just have one or two great players,” Edwards added. “You’ve got to have everybody. Everybody has a part on the team to fulfill. Everyone does their part and that’s why we’re doing so well. We’ve just got to keep it up and finish as hard as we know we can.”
And if the Warriors do that, they might just find themselves finally bringing home some hardward from Birmingham.
“We know that we can get to the state tournament,” Lexie Bradley said. “Now we are focused on winning it. That’s been our goal from day one. We want to bring home a map.”