A banner was hung on the wall of the North Hall gym to support the Lady Trojan volleyball team, playing on Wednesday in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
“Have fun, play hard and hit the floor,” it said.
It appears North Hall was paying attention.
Playing against Westside, Augusta at home, the Lady Trojans swept the best-of-five match (25-14, 25-18, 25-17) to advance to the second round of the playoffs where they will face No. 1 Sandy Creek on Tuesday.
“We kept the ball in play and eliminated a lot of errors,” North Hall coach Emi Hughes said after the match. “We’re playing well right now. We really are. Probably the best we’ve played all season. I’ll take that at the end of the season any time.”
The match was characterized by a number of long runs by the Lady Trojans (25-20, 6-4 8-AAA).
They jumped out to big leads in each of the three games — 12-4 in the first, 11-1 in the second and 14-5 in the third.
In the first game, the Lady Trojans had runs of eight and six points to distance themselves from Westside. In the latter, a long rally was capped off by a diving save and a hard kill to put them in front 21-10.
North Hall added runs of 11 and nine points in the second and third games, respectively.
Westside (22-13, 11-3 3-AAA) mustered moderate comebacks in both those games to make the match a little closer, but were ultimately unable to withstand North Hall’s rallies.
After falling behind 16-6 in the second game, Westside fought to cut the Lady Trojan lead to 20-16. It followed the same script in the third, cutting a 20-7 lead to 23-17 before North Hall was able to close out the match with back-to-back points.
“I think we got a little caught up in the excitement of the moment,” Hughes said. “We had some nerves finishing the match, but that’s pretty normal.”
The Lady Trojans were led by McKenna Rushton and Kristina Gregory, who finished with 10 kills and 15 assists, respectively. Rushton, who missed the Region 8-AAA championship against Oconee County, added three aces in the match while Gregory had four.
Mary Kate Rushton added three kills and six aces, and Sydney Cleveland led the team with 10 digs.
While she was pleased with the opening round performance, Hughes said that a lot of the small errors that they committed will be much more difficult to overcome in the second round, potentially matched against the No. 1 team in Class AAA, Sandy Creek.
“We did well, but a lot of those mistakes won’t fly in the Sweet 16,” she said. “Especially against a team like Sandy Creek.”
Sandy Creek (40-7, 11-0 1-AAA) hasn’t lost since Sept. 17, a span of 18 consecutive matches. More than that, in those 18 matches, the Lady Patriots have lost just two games out of 41 played.
Hughes said that they were a much more ‘intense’ team than North Hall is used to playing.
“They’re a lot tougher,” she said. “It will be a lot more intense. Doable, but intense.”
The Lady Trojans will play next in the second round on Tuesday. The higher seed of the two teams will host the match.