Volleyball has a storied history at Wilson Hall, and for the last few seasons, Lucy Matthews has been one of the reasons why.
Despite only playing the sport recreationally before joining the JV team in eighth grade, Matthews has become one of the top volleyball players in the state. In fact, this fall she was put on American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Watch List, which recognizes the top seniors from across the country.
It took a lot of hard work for Matthews to get to that point. When she was a freshman trying to break through on varsity, she thought she wasn't ready. Her volleyball experience to that point was playing in gym class and a year of JV. Seeing seniors on the other side of the net was tough to overcome.
"I was kind of overwhelmed when there would be girls on the other side that were like 6-foot and knew what they were doing, and I was just a little ninth grader who didn't know what she was doing," Matthews said. "It was very intimidating being out there, but my teammates and my coach really helped me get through it."
One of the most important decisions Matthews made for her volleyball career was playing club ball with the Sumter Juniors. Her experiment with club volleyball only lasted a season because it made playing basketball and running track at Wilson Hall difficult that winter, but she learned a lot about herself as a player in that one year.
"The decision to do it that year was because I really enjoyed it and wanted to keep doing it," Matthews said. "I thought it would get more people looking at me, and I would be around people that were better than me so I could get even better."
That season of club paid dividends, as Matthews took a big step forward in her sophomore season.
"My parents always joked that it was my coming out season," Matthews said. "I really understood how I was as a player and understood what I could do on the court. I started realizing my power, and I worked on things. I worked on my vertical. I worked on my swing, and we would really just kind of pinpoint things so I could excel in those areas."
Over the next few seasons, Matthews was also surrounded by a core group of players that grew together. The 2020 senior class took up around half the roster for each of the last two seasons and led the Lady Barons to great records. Last year, powered by Matthews and that senior class, Wilson Hall finished 26-6-2 before falling in the second round of the playoffs.
"I think their leadership, honestly, is what I've looked up to all this time," Matthews said. "A lot of them are my biggest role models and showed me what leadership really is. Working with them has made me become more confident."
The challenge for Matthews and the current Wilson Hall team came when they graduated. That senior class of seven left a void and, the Lady Barons had to figure out how to fill it.
"At the end of last year, we would always talk about, 'Oh, this next season is going to be so bad.' I mean, seven seniors that were all starting, it was going to be so bad," Matthews said. "I feel like this offseason we worked super hard, we worked with the younger girls, and everybody came together.
"Since then, we've definitely had to adjust a lot, but coach Rip (Ripley) was just telling us that we've learned how to have more grace with each other, more patience and realized that we are a building team, and with that comes hardships, but it's definitely working out."
A lot of that pressure rested on Matthews' shoulders. She leads the team with 109 kills so far this season, as the Lady Barons have gotten out to a 14-5-1 start. As the most experienced player on the team, it's a heavy weight for Matthews to carry, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"A lot of time I do well under that pressure, and I thrive under it," Matthews said. "I love being busy because it keeps me diligent, and with volleyball, when that pressure is on me, I feel like I play my best. I kinda like the pressure, which sounds kind of funny, but it's helped me grow in a lot of ways. When it becomes too much, I have my teammates to lean on."
While her experience on the court made Matthews a natural leader for this year's team, she has also learned a lot about leadership off the court. One of the most impactful places she learned how to truly lead was actually outside of Sumter.
She went on a mission trip to Costa Rica in 2019 before going on another trip to Guatemala this summer. She spent her time trying to leave a positive impact on those communities, and she learned that the best way to lead is by helping others first.
"On a lot of those missions, I've been taught by a lot of people I look up to how to be a leader. It's kind of made me come back and think about leadership. It doesn't just mean being in charge and telling people what to do. It actually means being a servant and showing everyone else that you can serve them and everyone else. It's something that applies to every part of my life. I'm just trying to serve others."
Now Matthews is playing her senior season at Wilson Hall and hoping to extend her career past high school. As of now, she's not sure where volleyball will take her, but Matthews plans to keep playing the sport she loves one way or another.
"We're kind of waiting for opportunities, and we're going to see what presents itself. We're not really focusing on that right now. Whatever happens, happens," Matthews said of her recruitment. "I think I'll always play sports as long as I live. Whether it's playing tennis when I'm like 50 or whatever, I'm hoping to continue playing sports in some capacity in college, whether that's club or intermural or playing for the college."
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