LEXINGTON — Around lunchtime Saturday, the St. Joseph’s Catholic School volleyball players could make two hand signals during photo sessions — number one and number five.
The one represented the 2015 Class A state volleyball championship the Knights had just won by sweeping Branchville 3-0 at White Knoll High School.
The five stood for the team’s fifth straight title, making St. Joseph’s the third South Carolina school to win at least five championships in a row. It also moved St. Joseph’s (37-6) into a tie with two other schools for the fifth-most number of volleyball titles in the state.
“It feels great to end my high school career like this,” said Michelle Malsch, one of two seniors on the team along with Alex Tamura. It was Malsch’s third state title. “I’m really proud to be on this team.”
“It’s nice, but it also adds a lot of pressure to you,” said St. Joseph’s coach Jan Carino. She now has five state titles, moving her into a tie with Hillcrest coach Lynn Avant for eighth among coaches in South Carolina.
“Being the one on top, you always feel that pressure of trying to stay there,” she said. “Everyone else is trying to knock you out of that spot.”
If Carino’s players felt any pressure, they didn’t show it as the Knights dominated all facets of the contest. They won 25-7, 25-11, and 25-7 in a match that lasted about 50 minutes.
“When we’re energized, we’re focused,” said Knights captain Kaely Thompson. “That was one thing we kept repeating to ourselves. We’re going to play our tempo, and if we do that, we’re going to be just fine.”
The Yellow Jackets (23-11) won few points at the net and scored on just three of 21 serve opportunities in the three sets.
Allison Whitten, also a captain, said, “We try to stay in system as much as we can and try to work our middles and work the block around. We have single blocks everywhere.”
“We have a pretty strong team,” Carino said. “I felt pretty confident going into today that we would hopefully come away with another state championship.”
All 10 Knights players (Joelle Saunders missed the game with an injury) played, including two eighth-graders and two freshmen.
In the second set, Branchville closed to within one at 7-6 after St. Joseph’s lost a point for a rotation error. The Knights won eight of the next nine points to regain control.