North Hall volleyball coach Emi Hughes didn’t know how her players would respond after a tense three-set triumph over Greater Atlanta Christian in the Area 7-AAA championship the previous week.
But there was never any indication of doubt from the top-seeded Lady Trojans against first-round opponent Kendrick in Gainesville on Wednesday. It took less than one hour for the hosts to cruise to a 25-7, 25-7, 25-9 victory in a best of five format against the visitor from Columbus.
Area champion North Hall (29-14) will host the winner of East Jackson/Windsor Forest on Oct. 18.
Last fall, the Lady Trojans fell in the state quarterfinals to defending Class AAAA champion Marist after reaching that point for the second-consecutive year. Hughes was satisfied with the way her girls played in both phases to kickstart the postseason on the right footing, this time in Class AAA.
“We had such a tough match with GAC, that you know, you never know how you’re gonna come off of big hitting,” Hughes said. “But we came out and played solid. I was very happy with how they played for sure.”
The Trojans trailed for two brief moments in the match, as Hughes got plenty of output from her front row of abled veteran hitters to keep the momentum on their side. Autumn Tucker fronted the attack with 15 kills — five in the second set — added a pair of blocks on defense and served up eight aces from the back line. Melissa DeVerter wasn’t far off with 10 kills, two blocks and two digs.
“She’s (DeVerter) everywhere,” Hughes said. “She brings so much defense, but great offense. She’s kind of our go-to person for a quick kill. And between her and Autumn tonight, they were playing very well”.
Junior libero Lena Strickland extended points throughout the match with a team-high 15 digs, and displayed an aggressive service game with nine aces. Junior setter Lily Paschall dished 31 assists.
Kendrick got a pair of kills from Jabreia Burston and Cudrea Veasley.
The Cherokees took an early 2-0 lead in the opening set before the Trojans catapulted on an 11-0 run aided by four Paschall aces and kills by DeVerter. Tucker highlighted an 8-0 run later in the set with a pair of kills to stretch the Trojans’ lead to 22-6.
Trailing 2-0 in the second, DeVerter flipped the switch with an early kill, and the Trojans reclaimed the lead for good on a 5-0 run. Tucker, freshman Madison Brock and Caroline Brady contributed points on offense with kills before DeVerter capped set two at 24-7 with a kill.
An ace by Brady put the Trojans on the board first in the final set, and early kills by Kendrick’s Burston and Veasley kept things tight until Strickland put things far out of reach for good at 8-5. She unloaded 10-in-a row from the back line with five aces before misfiring serve No. 11. Tucker accounted for four of the next five Trojan points before DeVerter unloaded her final kill at the net to seal the match.