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Lady Wolves power through to win Area 8-AAAA volleyball title
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Buford's Halston Hillier (8) and Gabby Curry (22) defend the net against North Hall's Juliana Paschall during the Area 8-AAAA volleyball championship on Thursday at Buford High School. - photo by Jared Putnam

BUFORD — When Buford found itself struggling to create consistent chances at the net Thursday night, sophomore Gabby Curry said she turned to her hands for inspiration.

“We had a few moments when we weren’t all together and so we had to tell ourselves, ‘BWOD,’ Curry said. “That’s our way of turning things around and getting serious.”

That acronym, written in pen above each of the girls’ knuckles, stands for “Buford Wolves or Die,” according to the sophomore, and it gave Buford (36-2, 7-0 Area 8-AAAA) the impetus to defeat North Hall in straight sets (25-18, 25-11, 25-21) to earn the 2014 Area 8-AAAA championship on its homecourt.

The Wolves entered Thursday’s championship match on a 19-match unbeaten streak and had only surrendered 10 sets all year. North Hall, fresh off a three-set comeback semifinal victory over North Oconee on Tuesday, gave the Lady Wolves plenty of problems in the early action.

The Trojans (31-11, 5-2 Area 8-AAAA) guarded the net closely, anticipating Buford’s quick shots and powerful spikes. When North Hall defended close, its attack was to the baseline, in an effort to stretch out the defensive coverage.

“This team brings a lot of energy and we were running off of that early,” said North Hall’s Emi Hughes, who was named the Area 8-AAAA Coach of the Year. “Our offense and our defense has been working really well over the past couple weeks.”

Buford’s Amanda Hopkins finally broke an early lead to 10-7 in the first set when her ace landed in-bounds. Curry added an ace of her own, along with a vicious near-court slap soon after, to stretch the eventual lead to seven points and give the Lady Wolves the advantage.

Senior Sydney Cleveland (first-team all-region) began the second set with a few early points on serve for North Hall before making two crucial digs to break a 3-3 deadlock. But Curry used one of her 19 kills on the evening to give Buford the serve before earning the next 10 straight points on serve to push her team’s lead to 22-10.

Freshman Tatum Shipes (18 kills) would later win the set with a ferocious strike that was too much for Cleveland (12 kills, 6 digs, 1 block) to return.

“(Curry) just had a phenomenal night, I mean everyone was really solid tonight,” said Buford head coach Hadli Daniels. “Some of our players were a little nervous starting off, but they picked themselves up. We’re a tough serving team.”

That much was on display in the final set when Buford took seven out of the first nine points before an ace by senior Corbin Farr seemed to put the match out of reach.

Lily Paschall (18 assists) turned a few inspired kills in a small Trojans revival that cut the Wolves’ lead to four, but North Hall had no answer for Shipes who ended the championship final on a hit that landed just before the baseline.
Buford has won in straight sets 29 times so far this season.

It’s just another team goal ticked off the list for Curry, Daniels and the rest of the Buford squad, who progress to the state playoffs, along with North Hall. After securing their second straight Gwinnett County Volleyball Championship last month, an area title is more fuel to the fire for Buford’s hopes on the state level.

“It feels really good,” said Curry, who was named the area’s Player of the Year. “I definitely didn’t expect that at all, but this is a great team and we’ve got a lot of motivation heading to state.”

Both teams play at home Wednesday for the first round of the state tournament.

CHESTATEE FINISHES FOURTH IN 8-AAAA: Chestatee defeated Madison County 27-25, 19-25, 25-21, but lost to North Oconee 25-15, 25-21 Thursday evening to place fourth in Area 8-AAAA and also qualify for state.

Grace Brown, who was voted to first-team All-Area, had 20 kills and 22 digs for the War Eagles, while Tyler Bennett tallied six kills, 18 assists, 16 digs and an ace. Haley King had 15 assists, four kills, eight digs, a block and an ace for Chestatee, and Alexa Starr had six kills, an ace and a block.

Bennett and Starr were voted to second-team All-Area. Chestatee will play in the first round of the state playoffs next Wednesday.

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