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North Hall volleyball team hopes to resolve 'unfinished business' in state semifinals
Lady Trojans can clinch first-ever state championship berth after falling in semifinals last season
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North Hall's volleyball coach Emi Hughes high-fives her players after sweeping Savannah Arts Academy in the Class 3A volleyball quarterfinal game in Gainesville, on Oct. 21, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Every time she steps into the North Hall High gym, Melissa DeVerter takes a quick peek at the signs adorning the stands.

White banners bearing black and green letters list the Lady Trojans volleyball team’s accomplishments this postseason — Area Champs, First Round, Sweet 16, Elite 8 —  with a large check mark by each one. Underneath the checklist sits another sign simply stating North Hall has “unfinished business” to take care of.

“I’ll come in the gym throughout the day, and I’ll see it,” said DeVerter, a senior middle blocker. “It’s a reminder of what our goals are and what we have to do to get there. I really like it. I think it’s good for us.”

The list has grown over the last two weeks as North Hall has cruised through the playoffs, but the unfinished business starts today.

North Hall hosts Pace Academy at 6:30 p.m. today in the Class 3A state semifinals, where the Lady Trojans fell last season against eventual state champion Westminster. The loss has driven the squad to make it back to this point after its first-ever semifinal appearance a year ago.

“We draw from that defeat,” North Hall coach Emi Hughes said. “We get motivation from having been there, knowing we belonged and not making it one step further. As soon as we stepped out of the locker room last year at Westminster, we knew we wanted to be back here.”

The sting of defeat has lingered all year long, along with the lessons that accompanied it.

North Hall (45-10) won the opening set of last year’s semifinal match, a quick start DeVerter said came as a surprise to her and her teammates. But Westminster rallied to claim the next three sets and knock out the Lady Trojans one round before the state championship.

Senior setter Lily Paschall pointed to a lack of conditioning as why the team ran out of steam after beginning the match well. Both she and DeVerter recalled a large and rowdy student section adding pressure to the visiting underdogs.

“We kind of lost our momentum,” DeVerter said. “We gave everything we had in the first set, but we weren’t able to match their stamina. We knew we needed to get to the point where we had the stamina to hang with the big dogs.”

Now North Hall is one of the big dogs. The Lady Trojans received the No. 2 seed in Class 3A when the GHSA re-seeded the top eight teams, and MaxPreps.com has them pegged as the best team in the class.

They’ve played like it, winning every set in playoff sweeps against Towers High, East Jackson High and Savannah Arts Academy.

All but one of North Hall’s wins during its dominant run through the state tournament came by fewer than eight points. The impetus behind the Lady Trojans’ postseason push, of course, is last year’s semifinal loss.

“You have to embrace it,” Hughes said. “For the seven seniors, that’s all they think about. They know they want to improve and be the very best group that ever came through here. They have a chip on their shoulder heading into the semifinals.”

That may not bode well for No. 3 Pace Academy (27-11), the second-place finisher in Area 4-3A behind top-seeded Lovett, which faces Westminster in the other semifinal match.

The Lady Knights have talented youth at key spots, including a freshman setter. Hughes expects the experience of her team, which boasts a large senior class that has reached at least the third round of the playoffs all four years, to be a huge advantage for North Hall.

Those seniors, not content with another semifinal appearance, are focused on clinching their first-ever state championship berth and making history yet again.

“Honestly, that’s all we’ve been thinking about since the first round of the playoffs started a few weeks ago,” Paschall said before adding with a huge grin, “Winning the state championship would honestly make my life.”

All the Lady Trojans need to do to make that a reality is take care of some unfinished business.

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