ATLANTA — Buford staved off match point five times in the fourth game of Wednesday’s Class AAA state semifinal volleyball match at No. 1 St. Pius X.
Unfortunately for the Lady Wolves, they couldn’t stop the Lady Lions on the sixth match point.
A pair of kills by Leah Hardeman secured the Lady Lions’ 3-1 win (22-25, 25-17, 25-18, 28-26) over Buford and a trip to the state title match.
“I can’t explain to them how proud I am off all of them,” Buford coach Hadli Daniels said of her players.
“They know how proud of them I am.”
Down 2-1 and facing elimination in the fourth game, Buford (35-11) looked as though it was going to go quietly after St. Pius X (47-7) built a commanding 22-11 lead, putting the Lady Lions just three points away from a meeting with Blessed Trinity for the state championship.
Instead, the Lady Wolves rallied and made things interesting.
The Lady Wolves put together a 13-2 run to even the game at 24-24. But each time they knotted the game even with St. Pius X, the Lady Lions immediately responded, eventually receiving the back-to-back commanding kills from Hardeman to close out the match.
“I thought that game could have gone either way and if we play like that the whole match, we could probably play with any team in the state,” Daniels said.
Despite reaching the state semifinals for the first time in school history, Daniels said following the match that it was going to take some time to shake off the loss before the players realize what they had accomplished this season.
“It’s hard right now to put it into perspective because we wanted to get to that final level,” Daniels said. “We felt like we really had the chance to do it this year. Right now it hurts that we didn’t get to where we wanted to go, but they made history for us.”
Buford won an emotionally draining first game, trailing just twice and never leading by more than five points. Each time the Lady Wolves got ahead, St. Pius X charged back.
Daniels said it was that first game victory, and all the effort that it took from the players, that made the difference in the second and third games, when Buford was outscored 50-35.
“Game 1 took just so much energy out of us and it is hard to come down to keep playing consistent,” Daniels said. “That is kind of what happened in games two and three and I just thought we were exhausted.”
Mikhayla Riegal led Buford with 30 digs on the night, while freshman Gabby Curry finished with 21 digs and 13 kills. Senior captain Maggie Roper finished with 12 kills and nine digs, playing her final high school volleyball match at Buford — a place she began playing in the seventh grade.
Bree Horrocks had 10 kills and two blocks for Buford, while Morgan Mitchell finished with a team-best 31 assists.