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North Hall volleyball sweeps East Jackson, advances to the 3rd round of the state playoffs
North Hall's Autumn Tucker (11) serves a ball against East Jackson in the second round of the Class AAA state volleyball tournament. - photo by Erin O. Smith

North Hall volleyball moved one step closer to the Class AAA state championship on Tuesday with a straight-sets sweep of East Jackson at North Hall High in Gainesville, moving the Lady Trojans on to the third round.

North Hall (30-14) didn’t let the Lady Eagles get close, winning 25-9, 25-12 and 25-9.

“Our mission today was to come out and make a statement and I think we did,” North Hall coach Emi Hughes said with a smile.

Teams will be reseeded for the third round, which is considered the first round of the championship bracket, and higher seeds will host in the first two rounds of the new bracket. Those seeds, along with game times, will be determined later this week.

The Lady Trojans opened the night Tuesday with the first three points scored. They closed the night scoring the final three points. Both stretches included points scored by Melissa DeVerter.

DeVerter knew coming in she would be able to have success attacking the net.

“They did not have a block up at all,” the junior said. “It was like swinging on an empty net, so you could put the ball anywhere you wanted.”

Caroline Brady showed up big early, managing her five kills and two aces on the night in the two opening sets. She had three kills in the second set and both aces in the first. Brady served on the final eight consecutive points for North Hall to close out the first set, including an ace to seal the win.

“She played great tonight,” Hughes said. “She had some big kills at big times. We’ll expect her and everybody out there to do the same in order to advance past the Elite Eight.”

Lily Paschall led the team in aces with six. Four of those came in succession during the third and final set, pushing North Hall out to a 6-2 lead. Autumn Tucker and DeVerter traded off with kills to push the lead to 8-2 before East Jackson was able to notch a kill of their own.

“That’s what (Paschall) is capable off. She’s not just a great server, but she just sees the court so well,” Hughes said. “She has the ability to help us jump out to a lead and, gosh, to do it with aces is fantastic and makes a big statement.”

Paschall also led the team with 25 assists. She added 11 digs as well.

Tucker finished the night with a pair of aces, nine kills on 23 attempts and nine digs.

Lena Strickland had 20 digs to lead the Lady Trojans on the night.

DeVerter had nine kills on 21 attempts, three solo blocks and two aces.

“She’s so clutch,” Hughes said. “She delivers when we need her to, but it probably wouldn’t be possible for her to look as good if Lily Paschall wasn’t so consistent. She’s been that consistent all season. Melissa has been able to capitalize on that and, when we need a quick point, that’s who we go to. It’ll be huge down the stretch.

“Between her, Autumn, Lily and getting good digs from Lena, we’ve got to have it all.”

The Lady Trojans made the third round last year. It was at that point they were swept in three sets by Marist and their season concluded.

DeVerter was one of those who experienced the loss a year ago in Atlanta and she said the jump from the second round to the third is a “drastic difference.” She said she’ll have advice for her teammates who weren’t there to play in that game.

“To definitely expect the best and not underestimate teams because they’ll come out swinging harder than you think they will,” DeVerter said. “That’s what happened last year with Marist. We’ll definitely expect Marist quality teams.”

There’s something different about North Hall’s squad this season. Hughes and DeVerter both see that.

“We’re definitely more together as a team,” the junior hitter said. “We just work well together. We’re more skilled, we’re stronger. Half the team returned, so we’re just building on what we had last year. Hopefully we go further this year.”

For Hughes, it’s about being a little more hungry.

“It’s nice to be a year older,” the coach said. “We just have a little bit of a hunger that we may not have had as much of last year. We like our chances. We are playing very good and think we can still play better volleyball. They believe that and we think we’re a top team in the state. Right now, they’re proving it.”

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