Catawba Ridge’s Micah Collins tries to find a hole to put a shot between three Bishop England defenders during Thursday’s match.

COLUMBIA – A first-year program wasn’t supposed to be where the Catawba Ridge Copperheads were Thursday night- in the finals of the inaugural 4A state boys’ volleyball championship.

But there they were taking on the Bishop England Battling Bishops in the finals in the first ever S.C. High School League sanctioned finals. Just getting there was a monumental task for the program as some of the players had not even picked up a volleyball until earlier this year.

“I had one guy who had played volleyball just three months prior to starting,” said Catawba Ridge head coach Ross Lisee. “Where we come from in May until now, I am so proud of them. It is something they should be proud of. We had a great season. We had a great year.”

The experience of the Bishops showed as they won 3-0 (25-21, 25-18, 25-13) Thursday night on a neutral court at Dreher High School. Catawba Ridge finished the season 21-9-1 overall.

Bishop England won last year’s invitational title and has a strong history with the girl’s program, which has 28 girls’ volleyball state championships. Normally a 2A school, the Battling Bishops came in with a 17-3 record.

The match started out much like one would expect between two state title contenders. Each team traded points early until the Copperheads rattled off three straight points to go up 9-6 in the first set.

Bishop England slowly worked their way back to tie the set at 12. Catawba Ridge again put together a small run and took a 17-14 lead, but every lead ended up with the Bishops making a run of their own. Bishop England would tie the set at 19 and then take a 21-19 lead as the Copperheads took a timeout. The Bishops continued to extended their lead after the break to take the opening set.

“I think that first set loss took them back a little bit,” Lisee said. “I still feel like we were prepared. They were just a better team today.”

Bishop England started the second set off strong and went up 5-2. Catawba Ridge stayed close and kept it competitive. The Bishops were stronger at the net getting blocks to score points off potential Copperhead kills. Bishop England was also good at finding holes for them to place shots in as well.

Catawba Ridge stayed close at 20-15, but couldn’t get a run to catch up as the Bishops led the entire second set.

Holding a 2-0 lead to start the third set, the Bishops opened the third set going up 5-0. Bishop England pushed that lead to 10-3 before a Copperheads timeout. The Bishops continued to push the pace and again used their play at the net to block shots and pull away to win the title.

Lisee said a first-year program is to set the culture. He feels like this team has done just that.

“These guys really did set the bar high,” he said. “They showed heart.”

Mac Banks:, @fortprep

Ethan McCormick tries to get a shot passed the Bishop England defense..