By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It’s been an unusual year for perennial Class AAA volleyball power Woodrow Wilson.
The Flying Eagles, hit hard by injuries and illness over the season, come into tonight’s Region 3, Section 2 tournament with a 20-18-4 record.
“The teams in our region are pretty even this year, and we needed to be healthy to be in the mix,” veteran coach Shirley Brown said. “And we’re still not far off.”
Woodrow suffered a big blow when one of its tallest players, middle hitter Alexis Simpson, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
The other middle, and the only other 6-foot starter, all-stater Anne Patterson, has battled injuries, and freshman middle Whitney Waldron rolled an ankle two weeks ago.
The only other middle, Tyjhea Grandjean, is also a freshman.
“We’ve been playing with freshmen middles, and that, other than setter, is the hardest position,” Brown said.
“This is also one of the shortest teams I’ve had in several years. Anne is the only tall player on the team. But they hustle, and they’re a great defensive team. They pick up the hits.”
Fortunately, the Flying Eagles have strong senior leaders in Patterson, a superb hitter and blocker, and setter Emily Ernest.
“Anne is a force. She’s gotten so much stronger,” Brown said. “Not only is she hitting better, but she’s reading the court more, looking for holes.”
Ernest is a four-year starter who made the state all-tournament team as a libero when she was a freshman. She moved to setter the following season and has really excelled.
“Emily is the best setter in the state, and not because she’s on my team,” Brown said. “She can get the pass behind the spiking line and still make a good set — that’s the mark of a good setter. And she’s still a great libero.
“When she and Anne are clicking, it’s awesome.”
The Flying Eagles have two other seniors in the rotation, outside hitter Laura Jarrell and defender Makayla Wykle.
Rounding out the lineup are junior Hanna Heft and sophomores Adriana Thomas, Sarah Mestrovic and Rosalyn Andrade at outside hitters; sophomore libero Haley Bristow and freshman defender Katelynn Bolen.
“They’re very young and quick to learn,” Brown said. “I like how they’re willing to learn and work.
“We spend at least 2 1/2 hours practicing, and if we keep them late, there’s no problems.”
Besides youth and injuries, Woodrow has also had to deal with the occasional absence of longtime assistant coach Sharon Pinardo, who has battled illness this season. Former player Bre Knapp has joined the coaching staff, which also includes Bill Brown and JV coach Ron Martin.
Sectional play starts at 5 p.m. in the Woodrow gym. The Flying Eagles take on Shady Spring while Oak Hill faces Princeton.
Top seed Greenbrier East faces the Oak Hill-Princeton winner in the semifinals, and the winner of that game meets the Woodrow-Shady winner for the championship.
The top winner and runner-up advance to Saturday’s 2 p.m. Region 3 finals, also at Woodrow, against the Section 1 winner and runner-up.
Brown knows it’s an uphill battle her team faces.
“The region is pretty tough. Greenbrier East is very good, and George Washington has six seniors starting. Capital is tough, and South Charleston is stronger than they’ve been in many years.
“That’s five strong teams, and only two will come out.”
The state tournament will be played Friday and Saturday of next week at the Charleston Civic Center.”
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