For most of Thursday’s Aiken County Varsity Volleyball Scrimmage, it was a learning experience for the six teams participating. Playing at Aiken High School’s James A. Taylor Student Activities Center, the teams from Aiken, South Aiken, North Augusta, Midland Valley, Ridge Spring-Monetta and Wagener-Salley used the scrimmage to incorporate all of their players in the game action, while also going over the fundamentals of their styles of play.


Things changed toward the end of the evening. That was when the teams went head-to-head with their longtime rivals and the intensity increased.


“It’s always more intense when we play Aiken,” North Augusta head coach Lindsay Tucker said of facing their former Region 5-AAAA rival. “It’s always fun to play Aiken. It’s good competition, and we played well.”


This is something of a transition year for the Hornets, who lost of several important seniors from last season’s team – including player of the year Anna Tovo. In spite of the new faces, they got the season off to a great start in the busy event with a format that had each team playing five times, facing off against every other participant. Rather than playing to a specific point total, the teams competed until their 15- or 20-minute sets expired.


Aiken swept all five of its scrimmages. That included a pair of 25-17 wins over North Augusta and South Aiken.


“It’s awesome, particularly with a young team,” Aiken head coach Malynda Young said with a smile of getting preseason wins over two of her school’s oldest rivals. “I’m really proud of them. How can you not be pleased?”


Against the Yellow Jackets, the Hornets made a couple of mistakes at the very start and fell behind by two points.


But they didn’t panic, something Young was pleased to see for a team that’s roster includes three sophomores, three freshmen and two eighth graders. The Hornets settled down and proceeded to win eight of the next nine points for a lead it never relinquished.


Leading the way for the Hornets was senior outside hitter Carly Bland. Not only did she hit several big shots, never coming off the floor against South Aiken and North Augusta, but she played with poise. She kept things together and her teammates focused.


Sophomore middle hitter Alyssa Frazier also made key contributions. She showed improvement from a year ago and was a force at the net for the Hornets.


Despite a lack of size, Aiken reacted well on defense – doing a good job of keeping tough shots in play – allowing itself the chance to force the action with winners or mistakes by the Yellow Jackets. But on a pair of marathon rallies, North Augusta prevailed to keep the score from getting out of reach, as players like Desmonet Wilson and Cydney Mathews displayed their versatility and ability to play with power from anywhere on the court.


“We were strong on offense when we had good passes,” Tucker said of the tuneup in preparation for the Sept. 2 season opener at Evans. “We played a lot, which was good, and got all the players in. We got the preseason nerves out.”


Against South Aiken, North Augusta played their rival to a standstill. The Thoroughbreds led 19-18 when time ran out in the back-and-forth match that’s likely a sample of what’s to come this season.


In the final set of the night against the T-Breds, the Hornets got off to a good start. They served very well and took a quick four-point lead. The T-Breds rallied to tie the score at 10-all by getting real low on defense and quickly converting to offense where it capitalized on well-struck shots.


Again, Aiken didn’t falter in the pressure situation, reclaiming the lead in the win. The Hornets will play the T-Breds in the regular season in a non-region game on Sept. 2, maintaining the rivalry, which isn’t as important to Young as what facing South Aiken seems to bring out of her players.


“I’m glad the girls enjoy (the rivalry). They need it and it pulls them together,” said Young, adding her squad needs to work on defense and communication, but is confident it will get better with more experience and trust in each other. As pleased as she was with the strides her Hornets took, she was also happy to be able to host the event without a hitch, hinting Aiken could bring a regular-season tournament back to town next season. “I thought it was a great event. I like that the community gets to see all the schools, and we can showcase the teams.”


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 15 years after graduating from Syracuse University.


AIKEN COUNTY VARSITY SCRIMMAGE RESULTS


• Aiken 24, Ridge Spring-Monetta 9


• Aiken 25, Wagener-Salley 6


• North Augusta 25, Ridge Spring-Monetta 8


• Aiken 23, Midland Valley 12


• South Aiken 19, North Augusta 18


• Midland Valley 18, Ridge Spring-Monetta 16


• North Augusta 24, Wagener-Salley 12


• Midland Valley 21, Wagener-Salley 7


• South Aiken 25, Ridge Spring-Monetta 12


• Aiken 25, North Augusta 17


• Wagener-Salley 24, Ridge Spring-Monetta 20


• Aiken 25, South Aiken 17


• North Augusta 25, Midland Valley 13