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Senior class paces Jefferson volleyball in second-round win over West Hall in Class AAAA playoffs
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Jefferson's Grace Haney (18) sets the ball for teammate Bre Arbanas (14) during the West Hall vs. Jefferson volleyball match in the second round of the Class AAA state volleyball tournament at West Hall High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The perennial success of Jefferson’s current senior class is something to behold.

In their tenure, seniors Bre Arbanas, Grace Haney, Hannah Healan, Hope Forrester, Sommie Nixon and Abby Wood have won more matches than any other group before them in the program’s history. They extended that win total on Thursday night in Gainesville with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-11, 25-21) sweep of West Hall, securing a trip to the third round for the second-straight year, this time in Class AAAA.

The Lady Dragons (32-23) will be given a new seed by the GHSA on Friday and will play their next playoff match on Saturday. A time and opponent will not be determined until then.

First-year coach Brittani Lawrence, who has considered herself a “newbie,” described the current senior-stacked squad as one that loves the battle and fight, and it’s contagious. Their track record of one Final Four run (2013) and now three Elite-8 appearances pretty much speak for that logic.

“These seniors have put a sense of dedication and passion into the underclassmen,” Lawrence said. “It’s like a contagious attitude where they’re always wanting to fight, always wanting to push forward and win that next point, win that next set and then, overall, win that match.”

The many long competitive rallies in this Sweet-16 match often fed the chipper home crowd consisting of a boisterous West Hall student section one end and the Spartan band on the other from inside West Hall’s gymnasium. The Spartans pushed the power-ridden Jefferson front row with a plethora of lunging digs, including 11 by senior captain and outside hitter Shelbie Conde.

The Spartans (19-31) came close to forcing a fourth set, prolonging set No. 3 by climbing within three of the Dragons at the very end.

A 4-0 run consisting of one kill by Wood and three Spartan misfires into the net put the Dragons up 23-15. The Spartans responded, taking six of the next seven points, including one kill by freshman Cadie Shirley at 23-18, in the comeback effort to bring it to 24-21.

One final fist-pumping kill by Wood on the very next point ended it.

“They came back on us pretty quickly. But kudos to West Hall,” Lawrence added. “They definitely put up a great fight against us, and I expected nothing less. I mean, they are a phenomenal team here in Oakwood.”

The Lady Dragons’ attack proved too persistent otherwise, as hitters Wood (8 kills, 17 digs, 7 aces), Arbanas (7 kills), Savannah Davis (7 kills) and Forrester kept the Spartans in check with multiple momentum swaying kills throughout the match. Haney put her offense in position with 25 assists.

The Dragons responded quickly after a kill by Conde put the Spartans up 1-0 to start the match, winning the next eight points. Three-straight service aces by Wood and kills by Arbanas and Davis, respectively, extended the Dragons lead by 13 later in the set.
In a see-saw second set, Wood laid down the hammer with a kill at 8-8 to put the Dragons ahead and kickstart an 8-0 run.

Lawrence accredited the success to sound passes in what was at times, a fast-paced affair.

“My philosophy is, when the ball is our on side of the net, we control it,” Lawrence said. “We have the power, so take advantage of the power and use it to our advantage. I trained them to a perspective of, when their game get’s fast paced and we need a second to take a breath, that first pass needs to be a nice high first pass so our setter can get to it.”
Ruby Guerrero led the Spartans attack with three kills and four blocks. Cadie Shirley had two service aces, while Makayla Courson dished five assists in the loss. First-year coach Katelyn MacDowell says farewell to seniors Conde, Alli Busbee and Courson.

In what was the first time in a long time that West Hall hosted a playoff match, MacDowell only sees promise for her underclassmen and an ever-growing volleyball program in the Hall County area moving forward.

“We’ve improved so much from the start of the season to now,” she said. “So I am super, super proud of this team in the improvements that we’ve had, so I’m excited about how we’ll keep improving next season. They were super nervous tonight, you can kind of tell. But other than that, I think they did great and they had fun.”

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