And then, there were four.
With North Hall’s win over Morgan County Tuesday evening, the group joined Johnson-Savannah, Beach and Greater Atlanta Christian as one of the last four teams remaining in the hunt for the Class 3A championship.
The team will play Beach on Saturday at Valdosta State at 2 p.m. for a coveted spot in the title game next Thursday in Macon.
The Lady Trojans have made it to the Final Four largely behind the efforts of their own big four — a senior class of Grace Hollifield, Maci Gillespie, Lauren Swanson and Ansley Smallwood that scored all but 6 points Tuesday in a 57-41 win over the visiting Lady Bulldogs.
After failing to advance past the round of 16 in three previous tries at the Class 3A state tournament, making it this far has been an important goal for the fourth-year players on their farewell tour of a season that has already included Lanierland and Region 7-3A titles.
“We put words on it; that’s what we wanted to do,” North Hall coach Kristi House said. “So far, so good.”
The senior corps has been the heart and soul of a Lady Trojans squad that has won seven consecutive games but is not yet satisfied with the season’s results.
But the team’s success is based on much more than its four most productive players.
The play of upperclassmen has been a good base for North Hall, but top to bottom teamwork is what sets the group apart from the last couple editions of the Lady Trojans.
“I definitely think it’s the teamwork,”
Gillespie said following Tuesday’s victory over Morgan County. “We’re more of a team this year.
We all get along, from the freshmen to the seniors. We’re all together, and we love each other.”
Gillespie’s sentiment is one that House has noticed and appreciated since the beginning of the year.
Consistent dedication and willingness to make individual sacrifices for the good of the team has been contagious for North Hall — starting with the upperclassmen and spreading to the rest of the players like wild fire.
“These kids do stuff the right way,” House said. “They’re great people. They’re great teammates. They love each other. It is no surprise to me that good things are happening to them.”
The hard work and preparation has been steady from the Lady Trojans, and now it’s time for the pay off.
As the team prepares to make a Friday trip down to Valdosta, House said she’s made sure to emphasize the importance of enjoying the special moments as they come.
“It’s not like this everywhere you go,” she said. “Not every kid gets to have these experiences. So we want to make sure that they appreciate that and that they understand they’ve been given a gift. They need to make sure they keep doing what they’re supposed to do to keep driving and keep showing what great people they are on and off the court.”
As for the players themselves, their plan is simple.
Immediately following Tuesday’s win, Gillespie had already put together a three-step process designed to carry the Lady Trojans through a week of school and straight into the most important game the program has played in nearly a decade.
“First we’re going to celebrate,” she said. “Then we’re going to refocus.
“Then we’re going to go play in the Final Four.”