Jamie Whalen panicked, if only for a short time.
Not halfway into Game 1 of Whale Branch Early College High School's first-round playoff match Monday, Whalen took a shot to the eye. Her vision blurred and she left the court. The Whale Branch senior, a three-time all-region selection who also earned all-state honors this year in Class 1-A, solidified the Warriors all season and helped them earn a home playoff match to open the Class 1-A playoffs against Baptist Hill.
Her teammates needed her on the court.
Fortunately for Whalen and Whale Branch, her vision cleared. Whalen returned to the floor later during the first game and helped the Warriors roll to a first-round sweep, winning with scores of 25-15, 25-11, 25-18.
Whale Branch, ranked No. 8 in the most recent Class 1-A coaches poll, travels to Johnsonville on Wednesday. The Flashes have been the Warriors' thorn, knocking them from the playoffs the past two seasons. It's a distinction Whale Branch coach Audrey Rhode would rather not be brought up again.
"I said, 'Tomorrow, that's the last,'" first-year head coach Audrey Rhode said. "I don't want to hear that."
Whalen served for five consecutive Whale Branch points late in the first game Monday and served for four crucial points during the third game after Baptist Hill pulled within 17-14.
She finished with 13 kills and 10 aces during the match. Teammate Maddy Summerill finished with 11 aces and 22 assists.
Whale Branch didn't trail, as Baptist Hill struggled with its returns throughout. The Warriors' focus shifts to today's practice, where they will continue to work on passing and receiving.
During the break after the end of the regular season, Rhode had her son serve to the Warriors as hard as he could. If players didn't successfully respond, they ran.
Shoring up the back row is essential to having a chance against a program like Johnsonville, Whalen said.
"It's hnoestly always our defense -- our passing, picking up their hits," Whalen said. "We always have a strong front row, but it's our back row that always hurts us."
Whalen is part of the original group of Warriors who played on the first Whale Branch team in 2010. The program earned the first banner in the gymnasium, hanging one for a shared Region 5-A championship in 2011.
Defeating Johnsonville wouldn't hoist another banner, but would mark off a goal for the season. A victory would grant the Warriors another home match, the Lower State semifinal.
The Warriors will again rely on a heavy contribution from Whalen, should her vision remain clear. Whalen encouraged her teammates to talk to each other after a few balls fells through for Baptist Hill points and maintained a chatter throughout the match.
"She took control and leadership," Rhode said. "Which I'm glad she did."