Philip Simmons High School volleyball coach Jay Watterworth knows the time, date and place. The only thing that remains a mystery is the teams that will play for the Class AA state championship.
“2:30 p.m., Nov. 6 at Dreher High School,” Watterworth said. “Oh yeah, I know. The girls know it too.”
Philip Simmons is ready for another successful season as the 2021 volleyball season shifts into high gear. The team went 15-2 last fall in a season that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In-season tournaments were cancelled and the playoff field was cut in half, from 32 to 16 teams.
Still, the Iron Horses managed to stay the course, reaching the third round of the Class AA playoffs. Andrew Jackson brought the Iron Horses’ season to an end in the Lower State championship and went on to play Chesnee in the title game.
Watterworth lost five talented seniors to graduation: Abby Szlosek, Alex Bobey, Kate Johnson, Maya Gerding and Jillian Rebuck. That’s the bad news. The good news is the team is experienced and deep with five seniors and seven juniors on the roster.
Watterworth has high hopes. The team’s goals are to win the Region 6-AA championship and reach that elusive state title game.
“That state championship has been elusive,” Watterworth said. “It’s taken us a while to get where we are. But we want to get back to the Lower State and take it one step further.”
Some programs take baby steps, but the Iron Horses are at a sprint level. Watterworth’s Iron Horse teams are 62-33 in five years of varsity competition with 22 of the losses coming in the first two years of the program’s existence.
The team opened the season with victories over Class AAAAA foe Cane Bay and Class AAA entry Hanahan. The Iron Horses were scheduled to play Cathedral Academy on Sept. 7 and Waccamaw on Sept. 9 to prepare for region competition, which begins next week.
Watterworth is preparing for region play. He’s also planning for the playoffs by playing in three in-season tourneys. The schedule calls for stops in Pelion and West Ashley High Schools, and Oceanside Collegiate Academy. All three events will allow Watterworth’s squad to see diverse teams — and talent.
The top two returning starters are senior Ludy Borges and junior Abby Bailey.
“They lead the team in hitting percentage and kills,” Watterworth said. “Between them, they probably have half of the team’s kills.”
Watterworth said the Iron Horses are fortunate to have three juniors on the team who can play the position. They are Emma Varn, Emma Ethridge and Izzy Corbit.
“It’s taken a while to get where we are today,” Watterworth said. “This year’s team is different with a few new players. There’s a lot of moving parts.”
“We have a lot of girls who have played together for a long time,” Watterworth added. “We have girls who played on the same club team so we are getting more reps. The key is to play together as a team.”