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Gainesville, Flowery Branch volleyball both make state in Area 8-AAAAA tournament
Lady Red Elephants finish as Area runner-up
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Flowery Branch High’s Autumn Luken goes up to block Heritage High’s Erin White’s shot with Flowery Branch High’s Katie Hall, right, and Colleen Grider, back, rush to help during the Area 8-AAAAA volleyball tournament at the Flowery Branch High gymnasium Saturday morning. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

FLOWERY BRANCH — Gainesville and Flowery Branch both walked away from the Area 8-AAAAA volleyball tournament feeling good. Both will be playing in the postseason after solid showings on the final day of tournament play Saturday at Flowery Branch High.

The Lady Red Elephants (34-9) advanced to the tournament finals against eventual champion Apalachee, which ensured the No. 2 seed to the playoffs and first home playoff match in Gainesville history.

“I’m so proud of this group of girls,” Gainesville coach Randi Orr said. “We have a great group and they deserve what they’ve earned.”

Meanwhile, Flowery Branch (14-24) rose above its fifth seed into the tournament by securing the No. 3 spot to the Class AAAAA state tournament, and will open the playoffs with a trip to play the No. 2 seed from Area 7-AAAAA on Thursday.

The Lady Falcons were especially satisfied, after getting eliminated from the Area tournament after one match in 2011. Flowery Branch last made the postseason in 2010.

“This feels awesome and was our dream all season to make it to state,” Flowery Branch senior outside hitter Colleen Grider said. “I know we’re going to play our hearts out in the playoffs.”

Gainesville advanced to the tournament finals with a win against Flowery Branch (25-17, 25-9) in the third place game. In the finals, the Lady Red Elephants earned a rematch of their 25-20, 25-19 semifinal loss against Apalachee.

Apalachee won the championship match (25-23, 25-12, 15-25, 23-25) against the Lady Red Elephants.

After falling down by two sets in the best-of-five championship match, Gainesville rebounded nicely with a 25-15 win in the third set. Orr said that Gainesville started to challenge with better serving against Apalachee in the championship match.

In the third set, the Lady Red Elephants built a healthy lead early, before the Lady Wildcats scored seven straight points to tie the score at 10-all.

However, Gainesville took control back and went on a 10-1 scoring run to help close out the set. In the fourth set, the Lady Red Elephants got behind by as much as 17-11 before crawling back.

Gainesville took advantage of consecutive Apalachee miscues on the return and drew to within 24-23 before the Lady Wildcats scored the winning point.

Despite the loss, it wasn’t hard to see the positives for the Lady Red Elephants. Last season, Gainesville had to go on the road for all three of its playoff victories.

This season, the playoffs come to Gainesville.

“I’m proud of how far we’ve come,” said Gainesville junior Lauren Carter.

To advance to the championship, Gainesville beat Flowery Branch (25-17, 25-9).

Also on the day, Gainesville beat Loganville (25-19, 22-25, 25-16), before its loss to Apalachee in the semifinals.

Flowery Branch also lost to Apalachee to open play Saturday, dropping the Lady Falcons to the loser’s bracket.

Lady Falcons coach Rick Godfrey said the key to the day came when they rebounded for a 25-27, 25-18, 25-17 victory against Heritage after dropping the first set.

Flowery Branch won again in the fourth place game against Loganville (27-29, 25-18, 25-17). For Flowery Branch, Chanel Lear had 44 assists, and Grider chipped in 26 kills.

“We’re ecstatic to be going to the playoffs after a rough end to last season,” Flowery Branch senior middle hitter Autumn Luken said. “That’s been our goal all season to go to the playoffs.”

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