After a block from North Hall’s Grace Hollifield set up match point for the Lady Trojans in the Area 7-3A tournament final against East Hall, the Vikings took a time out, giving North Hall coach Emi Hughes a few moments to talk to her team. Hughes’ message ahead of the decisive point was simple.
“We have to focus and finish, and it was about taking care of that last point and putting it in and giving ourselves a chance to play,” she said.
The play developed immediately back toward Hollifield, who blocked it down for her second point scored in a row to clinch the match (25-15, 21-25, 25-20, 25-22) and the area championship. With the win, North Hall will open up state playoffs at home as a No. 1 seed. As the runner up, East Hall will also start state playoffs with a home match.
North Hall hosted the tournament after finishing the regular season with the best region record, and cheers from the home crowd filled the gymnasium as the Lady Trojans emerged victorious in the area for the third year in a row.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Hollifield said. “Just having our fans here and our families and our friends just here to cheer us on and support us.”
The Lady Trojans were led offensively by Hollifield’s 18 kills, three aces and three blocks, and defensively by Madison Brock’s 29 digs and libero Isabella Foster’s 23 digs. Their big night was kicked off with a fast start.
North Hall won the first eight points of the match, taking a commanding first-set lead right out of the gate behind the serving of Foster.
“We have the serving ability to get ahead on teams, and we have to,” Hughes said. “We have a very small margin for error. That was huge for us.”
East Hall did battle back, drawing to within three points in the set at 15-12, but the initial deficit proved too much to overcome.
The set ended almost exactly how it started — with strong service play closing things out. This time, however, it was Hollifield who put away the final five points to take the 25-15 first-set victory.
“To get that first game just in general was big,” Hughes said. “We knew East Hall was coming in hungry and excited, so we had to make a statement early.”
But the Lady Vikings were not going to go away easily.
After being forced to fight back from two match points earlier in the day against Fannin County, East Hall was no stranger to adversity. The second set was tied on a number of occasions, and the teams’ exchange of blows eventually found them knotted up at 19-all. But clutch serving from East Hall libero Alysia Teague sealed the 25-21 set victory.
“It’s just the resiliency,” East Hall head coach Ted Deppe said. “…What we told them is it’s the best three out of five. We lost the first set, but don’t stress it and let’s just go play volleyball.”
With the score leveled out, it was North Hall’s turn to rally.
As the teams switched sides, Hughes said she emphasized the importance of staying levelheaded to her team, encouraging them to keep focused.
“Every team is going to face a little bit of adversity and this was ours,” Hughes said. “How we respond is going to define how we play the rest of the day.”
A balance of aggressive offense and sturdy defense got things back on track for the Lady Trojans.
An emphatic kill from Hollifield on the first point of the set turned into a 6-1 run for North Hall. Later, Foster made a pair of diving digs in a single rally that put the Lady Trojans up 14-10. The Lady Vikings kept things close, clawing within a point to 19-18. But they couldn’t hold off North Hall late, eventually falling 25-20 and into a two sets to one hole.
From there, the Lady Trojans kept their foot on the gas.
After splitting the first 10 points evenly at 5-5, North Hall went up, holding East Hall off to the tune of several three-point leads throughout the set. And when the Lady Vikings battled back to tie it at 20, Hollifield knew it was time to step up her game.
“I just knew I had to get the points for my team to win the game and try hard and play my hardest,” Hollifield said.
Over the final five North Hall points scored, Hollifield managed two kills and two blocks, the final one being the game-winner that took the fourth set for the Lady Trojans 25-22.
The win gave North Hall its third straight area championship, and with the tournament officially behind them, the Lady Trojans now have their sights set on bigger things as they proceed into the postseason.
“To come out here and play well today and do what we were capable of doing the entire year is nice,” Hughes said. “It’s a good culmination. This was our goal, and now it’s just headed to the state tournament.”