WATKINSVILLE — Two comebacks weren’t in the cards for the North Hall volleyball team Thursday at the Class AAA state sectionals at Oconee County High School.
After rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat Hart County in five matches (17-25, 24-26, 25-17, 28-26, 15-3), the Lady Trojans (22-19) fell short against Class AAA’s No. 2-ranked Columbus.
The Lady Blue Devils (40-13) swept North Hall (25-11, 25-12, 25-21) ending the Lady Trojans’ season.
“I am extremely proud of these girls,” said first-year North Hall coach Emi Hughes. “They gutted it out and haven’t stopped. They’ve been great, coachable and just great to work with.”
In the first two games, Hart County (36-12) senior outside hitters Taylar and Lauren Stewart had North Hall on its heels and facing an early exit from the state sectionals.
The two combined for 25 kills over the first two matches of the game.
Early in the third match, however, with North Hall up by a point, Taylar Stewart went down with an ankle injury nullifying the Lady Bulldogs’ one-two punch.
North Hall used the absence to its favor, never losing the lead taking the third match in dominating fashion.
The fourth match of the game was back and forth with Hart County going up by as much as five points on three different occassions.
The resilient Lady Trojans’ would not be denied, and behind the play of seniors Katherine Filchak, Betsy Burns and Kelsey Marlett, junior Evann Rowland and sophomore Kathryn Bell battled Hart County to win 28-26.
“The girls basically were in that do or die mode,” Hughes said. “They had a will to win and have played with heart all season. Our seniors stepped up and we got it done.”
Having taken the wind out of Hart County’s sails in the third and fourth matches, North Hall left little doubt which team would walk off the court victorious taking the fifth and final set 15-3 on a Rowland kill.
The junior outside hitter finished the game with 13 kills, 35 digs and two aces. Filchak had six kills, four blocks and two aces. Bell finished with 24 assists and four kills and Marlett had 23 digs.
It was clear from early on in North Hall’s second game of the sectionals that the emotional two-hour contest with Hart County had left little in the Lady Trojans’ tank.
That, accompanied by the play of Columbus’ high-flying senior outside hitter Taylor Buckner, equalled a 45-minute sweep.
Buckner finished the game with 18 kills, three aces and one block.
North Hall attempted another rally in the third match of the game, tying it at 18 before Columbus strung off seven-straight to take the match and the game.
North Hall was led by Rowland who finished with three kills and five digs, Bell with 15 assists and Filchak who had six kills and six blocks.
“I’m excited about where we’re going,” Hughes said. “We have a great desire to win and these girls see themselves getting past the Sweet 16 and a being a force in the state.
“We proved today that we aren’t going down without a fight and we’re going to gut it out. That’s the tone we’ve set for this program.”