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Gainesville volleyball tops West Hall in 3 sets
Gainesville High’s Stasha Hopkins, right, smashes the ball past West Hall’s LeNisha Kearse during their match at the West Hall gymnasium Thursday night.

OAKWOOD — Gainesville senior Anna Walker admitted she was tired Thursday night after playing back-to-back three-set matches at West Hall High.

“I’m tired,” she said. “But when you win, it’s always a good tired.”

Especially when the second win of the night was also the final chance for Walker, as well as the rest of the Lady Red Elephants seniors, to play Hall County rival West Hall.

After outlasting Rabun County 25-17, 23-25, 25-13, Gainesville (4-2) held off the hosts 25-19, 17-25, 25-23 to avenge its season-opening, two-set loss to the Lady Spartans (6-1) last week in the East Hall SpikeFest.

“So far, this is the best win of the season,” said Walker, who recorded a team-high nine kills in the rivalry match. “To beat them now means a lot.”

The win was a testament to the improvement of Gainesville’s two freshman starters, Jacey White and Dallas Robson, both of whom started their varsity careers with the early loss to West Hall.

“It took us time to find out what worked,” said Gainesville coach Randi Orr, who added that Robson has taken over the setting duties, until starting senior setter Kaylin Walden returns next week.

“Now they’ve practiced more and know what to expect.”

The practice paid off, as Robson recorded 34 assists for the night, including 16 against West Hall. Libero Lauren Carter added six digs against the Lady Spartans, who came in to the match sporting a still-spotless record after having dispatched Rabun County in two sets in the night’s opening match.

But West Hall’s problems with serve and serve-receive in the match against the Lady Wildcats continued against Gainesville, said Lady Spartans coach Joe Nelson.

“Our serves are what hurt us more than anything,” he added. “We gave up four serves in the third match, and we made poor mistakes.”

Still, West Hall nearly overcame the problems a second time, rallying from Gainesville’s 25-19 opening set win with a 25-17 win of its own to even the match.

In the third set, as in the first, the Lady Red Elephants shot ahead early, taking as much as an 18-8 advantage on the strength of Stasha Hopkins’ serving and hitting.

But West Hall came roaring back, with senior LeNiesha Kearse (team-high 12 digs on the night) hitting an ace on her final serve to conclude a 6-0 run. Later, West Hall took a 23-21 lead in the final match with Laykin Herford (team-high 20 assists on the night) serving six consecutive service points.

But Gainesville stopped the run, and Walker’s final kill of the night put the Lady Red Elephants back ahead for good.

Krista Walsh added 11 digs for West Hall on the night, Carrie Ruis added eight aces and Kelsi Jones recorded 12 kills and three blocks in the two contests.

WEST HALL 2, RABUN COUNTY 0: The Lady Spartans made short work of Rabun County Thursday night, winning 25-8, 25-12 in Oakwood.

The Lady Spartans started out 9-1 in the first game and 16-2 in the second, although Rabun County made a small run to get within 22-11 before West Hall put the game away to improve the season-opening win streak to 6-0.

Kelsi Jones recorded five kills and a block, Ruis had five aces, and Kearse made six digs and a block.

GAINESVILLE 2, RABUN COUNTY 1: The Lady Wildcats (1-3) and outside hitter Hayley Haskell made it difficult, but the Lady Red Elephants prevailed in three sets (25-17, 23-25, 25-13) Thursday night at West Hall High.

Haskell, who first-year Rabun County coach DeeDee Dillard said is the team’s most experienced player, spurred the Lady Wildcats to a back-and-forth, second-game win after Gainesville had cruised in the first. The Lady Red Elephants last led at 6-5, but they never fell more than four points behind in the two-point defeat.

Behind the play of the dynamic Hopkins (team-high eight kills), Gainesville came out strong in the deciding game, running out to a 12-4 advantage early, to grab the win.

Gainesville plays host to Johnson and Cedar Shoals at 5 p.m. on Thursday. West Hall plays host to Pickens and Chestatee at 5 p.m. Thursday in Oakwood.