BUFORD — It has not been easy for Buford to establish itself as a championship contender while sharing Area 5-AAA with the two highest-ranked volleyball teams in the state.
Still, the Lady Wolves continue to prove that they are much more than some third wheel behind No. 1 St. Pius X and No. 2 Blessed Trinity.
Less than three weeks after being forced to settle for the third seed out of Area 5, Buford carved a spot as one of the top four programs in Class AAA and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in program history with a 25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 25-18 victory over North Oconee in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Buford High.
The Lady Wolves (34-10) move on to face the top-ranked Golden Lions (46-7) on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Atlanta, with a spot in the championship game hanging in the balance.
“It’s pretty special,” Buford senior Maggie Roper said. “I played varsity (my) freshman year and we didn’t even make it to state, we didn’t win region, we didn’t do good at all.
“We’ve progressively gotten closer and closer every year. I’m really excited, but I’m hoping for more.”
Roper led the Lady Wolves with 23 kills against North Oconee (42-10), while senior Bree Horrocks and freshman Gabby Curry added 13 apiece. Horrocks also had a team-high five blocks, senior Allison Frazier added four, and junior Mikhayla Riegel contributed 29 digs.
Buford coach Hadli Daniels said the additions of Curry and fellow freshmen Morgan Mitchell and Amanda Hopkins have been key for the Lady Wolves to take the next step, after reaching the state quarterfinals last season for the first time in program history.
“Every year we’ve gotten a step closer, and to be able to do it for (the seniors) with such a young team is really exciting,” Daniels said.
“We’ve had the addition of three great freshmen to our team this year who make a huge difference out there. Morgan Mitchell has been setting great for us all season; Gabby Curry is one of our premiere hitters ... and at middle Amanda Hopkins (has been doing a great job).”
Though North Oconee made Buford work for its victory, the Lady Wolves held the lead through the majority of the Super Six matchup. The lone exception was the third game, when the Lady Titans went on an 11-3 run and delayed elimination with a 25-21 win.
“It was probably good for our girls,” Daniels said. “ ... That’s the thing about having a young team, you go up and down and it takes a while for them to figure it out.
“Hopefully that game helped (us mature) and we won’t have to go through that again. In the past we haven’t had as great of composure and they’re still learning, but we did a pretty good job with it today.”
Horrocks said Buford’s defeat at the hands of Oconee County during the 2012 postseason was in the backs of players’ minds coming into Saturday’s game. Buford suffered a disappointing loss in five games in that quarterfinal appearance and was determined to avoid the same fate this time around.
“We couldn’t be complacent with what had happened last year,” Horrocks said. “We want to win the whole thing this year and we can definitely do it.”
To have a chance to win it all, Buford must first get through St. Pius X. The Lady Wolves faced the Golden Lions only once all year, a 14-25, 25-23, 9-25 loss on Sept. 10, but Daniels believes her team has made significant strides since then.
“We’re excited to get that matchup,” she said. “We played great against them at the beginning of the season and we still didn’t really have our rotation together at that point, and our girls feel confident (heading into this rematch).”