Even on defense, East Hall scored on first-round playoff opponent Glenn Hills with abandon.
Midway through the opening set, Vikings junior Minette Maldonado spotted a ball in the air, noticed it was wobbling too far to try a spike, and laid up a precise lob over the net that evaded four Spartans in the front court.
“She puts a lot of weight on herself, but we’re just not the same team without her,” said East Hall coach Ted Deppe.
The Vikings easily swept visiting Glenn Hills 25-5, 25-4, 25-10 Wednesday evening to earn back-to-back appearances in the second round of the Class AAA playoffs. They will next play at home against Jefferson (35-7) on Tuesday. The time is yet to be determined.
East Hall (35-13) has won two straight Area 7-AAA titles, and made the state quarterfinals last season before falling to Oconee County. The team made a strong start to this year’s postseason campaign, thanks to strong serving by Maldonado (15 points on serve, six aces) and Jessica Chmiel (14 points on serve, five aces, four kills, three digs).
Glenn Hills traveled three hours from downtown Augusta to arrive in Gainesville as the No. 4 seed from Area 3-AAA.
However, the Spartans could find no answer to East Hall’s hitters at the net, including standout Cassida Shockley who totalled nine kills.
The Vikings took a 17-2 lead in the second set before Maldonado shot back-to-back aces. She would end the set on a 7-point service run to put her team one foot into the second round.
A team leader on and off the court, Maldonado (12 kills, four digs) said she had “come from nothing” in her sophomore year, and thanked her coaching staff for getting her to where she is today.
“I had so many nerves, but I knew I could trust everybody on the team, everybody on the court,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of sweat and tears.”
The closest the Spartans ever came was when they trailed 4-2 in the decisive third set after an East Hall return went just beyond the Glenn Hills service line. But Maldonado picked up seven more straight points on serve as the Vikings built up an unassailable lead.
Against Glenn Hills, Deppe said he wanted his Vikings team to control the pace and tempo. The coach said he considers Jefferson to be a tough opponent which can pass, serve and hit the ball well.
The Dragons swept North Clayton in three sets at home in their opening round match on Wednesday night.
“That’s going to be a big match,” said Deppe of Jefferson. “We have to play our very best volleyball to win. It’s doable, but it’ll take our best game yet.”
Freshman setter Savannah Thellman added 27 assists in a strong defensive showing, while sophomore middle hitter Holly Poole completed eight aces, four digs and two kills for the Vikings.
Sophomore Summer Lindsey pitched in nine points scored on serve with seven digs. East Hall has just two senior starters.
“These girls have grown together as a unit,” said Deppe. “To do what we did is really special, and we’ll be expecting good things in the future.”