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North Hall, Jefferson volleyball teams battle tested early
0812 Volleyball2
Jefferson’s Madison Corbett hammers the ball across the net against Gainesville during The Battle at The Branch on Saturday at Flowery Branch High. Jefferson went 4-1 and won the Silver Bracket championship. - photo by Jared Putnam | The Times

Jefferson coach Mike Paul didn’t have a lot to complain about following the Battle at The Branch.

North Hall coach Emi Hughes was happy to find even less to critique.

“When you can show up the first day of the season and not drop a game or a set, that obviously helps,” Hughes said.

The Lady Trojans posted a perfect record against their five opponents in the season-opening tournament on Saturday at Flowery Branch and claimed the Gold Bracket championship. Jefferson fared almost as well, going 4-1 to take the Silver Bracket championship.

More importantly, both squads walked away with reason to be confident about their chances of building on strong 2013 campaigns, despite the fact that they are both playing in a higher classification this season.

“We really and truly learned, hopefully, how resilient our team is,” Hughes said.

“There were a few times during the day when we got behind, but we didn’t give up on ourselves and played every point to the end and it went our way. I feel like our team has a lot of chemistry already.”

For Jefferson, good chemistry was practically a foregone conclusion.

The Lady Dragons brought back 11 players — including seven seniors — from a 2013 squad that advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time in program history, before falling to Westminster in the Class AA state semifinals.

Paul expects the competition to be tougher in Class AAA, but that doesn’t mean the Lady Dragons’ expectations are any lower.

“Westminster moved up to 3A with us and Blessed Trinity is there, too,” Paul said. “They are the powers that be, I think.

“There’s high expectations out of this team. We’ve got all but one player back from last year’s team that did really well, and they’ve got high expectations for themselves.”

Despite its move from Area 5-AAA to 8-AAAA, North Hall should actually have a more favorable path to the playoffs than what it faced the past two seasons.

Although the Lady Trojans still share an area with rival Buford, they are no longer grouped with perennial state championship favorites St. Pius and Blessed Trinity — a pair of teams that squared off against each other for the state championship in both 2012 and 2013.

The Lady Trojans were forced to settle for the fourth seed out of Area 5-AAA last season and lost to Sonoraville in the opening round of the postseason.

North Hall returns five starters this season, including a nucleus of Sydney Cleveland, Jen Mullican and Julie Daniels.

“Just a change for us, I think it will be great, not feeling like before you even start you’re behind the eight ball,” Hughes said.

“We want to compete for an area championship. We’re excited about a change in the area to say the least.”

The Battle at The Branch was another change for both Jefferson and North Hall, offering both squads a chance to test themselves against a larger number of teams than what they face in a typical season opener. Each coach cautioned that while they were pleased with what they saw, there’s plenty of room for improvement at this early stage of the season.

“This was the first time in a while that we’d done (a tournament) at the start of the season,” Paul said. “It gives you a barometer of what you need to work on.”

Said Hughes: “It was a good start, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We’re just hoping to build on what we saw Saturday.”

North Hall’s next test comes tonight against West Forsyth and North Forsyth at West Forsyth High in Cumming. Jefferson will take on Hebron Christian Academy and Central Gwinnett at Hebron Christian in Dacula.

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