It took 206 points, five sets and more than two hours Tuesday, but the North Hall volleyball team had just enough left in the tank late to push past Jefferson at home in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs (19-25, 25-20, 19-25, 25-23, 15-10).
The Lady Trojans played from behind for much of the match, battling back from 11-7 down in the fourth with their backs against the wall to pull out the win and keep their season alive. The team was led offensively by Grace Hollifield’s 15 kills and six blocks, while Alexandria Bryant contributed 34 digs, six aces and five kills and Bella Foster added 46 digs.
“I’m telling you, this is the most proud I’ve been of this team,” North Hall head coach Emi Hughes said. “To see all our work come full circle has been huge, and to play a great Jefferson team that gave us everything we could handle tonight, they are so resilient. We handled the punches, and I’m super proud of them.”
The win sets up a rematch of last year’s state semifinal contest between North Hall and Pace Academy — a three sets to one victory for the eventual 2017 Class 3A champion Lady Knights.
“They’re a great team, but we’re just excited,” Hughes said of her team’s next opponent. “We’re going to enjoy tonight and get back to work tomorrow. We’ll have our hands full, but right now we’re playing great defense, and we can play with anybody in the state.”
Hughes’ squad certainly backed it up Tuesday night.
The Lady Trojans found themselves in a hole early on when they lost six of the first eight points to start the initial set. They drew within a point at 12-11, but six straight Jefferson points put things out of reach once again.
A four-point run trailing 24-15 was not enough to get North Hall back into the set, as the Lady Dragons took the opener.
The Lady Trojans found some life early in the second frame through the serving prowess of Bryant. North Hall rattled off six straight points on Bryant’s serve to go up 6-2 early, with Bryant herself notching a kill and an ace over that span. Bryant said she used the energy provided from the home crowd to keep things rolling when the team needed it.
“Hearing that crowd just makes you feel so great,” Bryant said. “You’ve got people behind you that are going to stick with you this whole game, and they are cheering every point. It just gives you a boost of energy.”
North Hall rode that energy all the way to a second set victory, evening the score.
But after losing nine straight points to relinquish a 19-16 lead in the third and go down two sets to one, the Lady Trojans needed another spark. Once again, they found it on Bryant’s serve. With the two teams knotted up at 13 in the fourth, Bryant led the team to seven straight points, picking up three more aces.
“(Bryant’s) been clutch for us at the service line all season, and she brings such energy when things are up and she’s serving well, and we get behind her and play great defense,” Hughes said. “She was huge tonight for sure.”
The Lady Dragons nearly came back in the set, drawing even at 23-23, before a Dovie Williams ace put things away for North Hall, setting up a decisive fifth set.
The final frame was back and forth to start, but trailing 9-8 in the first to 15 contest, North Hall turned up the heat. The Lady Trojans won seven of the final eight points, ending things with Hollifield kill that put the match away for good.
“I’m so proud of everybody,” Bryant said. “They all made their mark, first off, and they stuck to their positions. Everyone played exactly how they’re supposed to, and it was just such a great game.”
North Hall will now turn its focus to Pace Academy as the Lady Trojans look to earn their second consecutive trip to the Final Four in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament. The end goal remains a state championship, and the team’s come from behind win Tuesday night was a step in the right direction.
“This was win or go home,” Hughes said. “And these girls don’t want to go home yet.”