“We’re over the moon with excitement,” said North Hall volleyball coach Emi Hughes after its biggest win in school history Saturday.
The Lady Trojans (31-14) came out on top of three straight sets against Greater Atlanta Christian 25-22, 25-18, 25-23 to lock up their first state semifinal berth in school history.
It was a 50-50 match for the majority of the first two sets, then North Hall libero Lena Strickland sacrificed her body to keep the ball alive near the back line to successfully finish off the rally.
The Lady Trojans reeled off the next eight points to lock up the set it trailed by three before Strickland’s huge play.
“I did whatever it took to get the point,” said an elated Strickland after the win.
Hughes said afterward a big factor in North Hall’s favor was a fervent crowd who showed up to support its effort.
“We couldn’t have done it without all our fans today,” said Hughes.
With the victory, North Hall awaits the Westminster/Haralson County winner for the Final Four match. Game time and location are still to be determined.
The third-round playoff win signaled that the Lady Trojans have made it to a new level of achievement, after being put out in the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015.
After the third win this season against a skilled Lady Spartans (24-14) squad was in the books, North Hall’s energetic coach was caught between holding back tears of pure joy and wanting to jump out of the gym with excitement.
“This team we have is so driven and has been so hungry all season to make a statement,” said Hughes, grinning big after the win in Gainesville.
Despite relative youth for North Hall, the coach new this team could be the one to finally get to the semifinals after three previous trips (also in 2010) to the state quarterfinals.
“This is just so emotional for us, so exciting,” said North Hall junior setter Lily Paschall, who finished the day with 30 assists, eight digs, four kills and two aces.
The selfless play by Strickland made all the difference for North Hall. It came when Greater Atlanta Christian was holding a tenuous 18-16 lead. After the ball slipped through the fingers of one of her teammates, Strickland wasted little time getting to the ball and made enough contact to give her teammates a reasonable chance to earn the point.
The Lady Trojans did, in fact, earn the point.
After that, North Hall came away with eight straight to finish up the set, putting Greater Atlanta Christian in a win-or-go-home situation.
Despite trailing 21-18 late in the third set, North Hall capitalized on some unforced Greater Atlanta Christian errors to quickly erase the hole and close out the victory.
Hughes knew it was going to be a great challenge beating Greater Atlanta Christian for the third time in the same season. The Lady Spartans capitalized on some mistakes by North Hall to keep the lead for much of the opening set.
Then North Hall, as it did all day, responded to the adversity with a final three points to go up, 1-0, in the best-of-five match.
“We knew GAC was going to give us everything they had today,” said Strickland, who finished the match with 16 digs.
Also for North Hall, Autumn Tucker had 20 kills, 18 digs and an ace, while Melissa DeVerter chipped in five kills, five blocks and 14 digs. Savannah Miller finished with four kills and three digs for the Lady Trojans.