On the night when North Hall High middle blocker Melissa DeVerter was recognized for surpassing 1,000 career kills, she showed why she reached that mark in the first place.
DeVerter registered 11 kills and a team-high six blocks as the top-seeded Lady Trojans swept No. 2 seed East Jackson High (25-16, 25-12, 25-17) in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs Tuesday in Gainesville.
“She did a great job for us,” North Hall coach Emi Hughes said. “When their big middle came off the front line, they really didn’t have an answer for her. … She’s just so consistent. We know we can rely on her game-in and game-out.”
The Lady Trojans (43-10) advanced to the third round of the state playoff for the third straight year. North Hall’s next opponent will be determined once the GHSA re-seeds the eight remaining teams, but Hughes said her squad will likely host the quarterfinal match Saturday.
Hughes presented DeVerter and senior libero Lena Strickland, who has amassed 1,000 career digs and added 10 more Tuesday, with volleyballs bearing their achievements before play began.
“It really felt great. It’s such a big accomplishment,” said DeVerter, who also had four digs and three aces in the second-round match. “I’ve been waiting to do something like that ever since I was a freshman and looking up to the seniors that were on that team.”
Now she’s a part of a senior class that has reached the state quarterfinals for the past four years, and its experience showed early against the Lady Eagles (25-14).
After waltzing to a first-round victory last week in which they allowed only 14 points, the Lady Trojans on Tuesday found themselves in a quick 5-0 hole in the first set.
But the point-saving digs and precise passing of senior setter Lily Paschall (30 assists, 13 digs) helped North Hall get into a rhythm and battle to an 11-all tie before outscoring East Jackson 14-5 to claim the opening set.
“We knew they’d be running good stuff at the beginning,” Hughes said. “We’re at the point in the season where how we respond is huge because that could happen to us again moving forward. I wanted to see what would happen.
“The second round is often the trickiest round because the competition heightens so much. But that was how I wanted them to respond.”
The Lady Trojans trailed to begin the second and third sets, as well, but quickly rebounded to run away with both games.
Senior outside hitter Autumn Tucker (13 kills) drew praise from Hughes for contributing when DeVerter wasn’t dominating the front line. Turner reeled off four straight kills — the last of which followed a Lady Eagles timeout — to spark North Hall’s 11-2 run that sealed the second set.
“A little bit of (her success) was strategic, with the matchups on the other side of the court that favored her,” Hughes said. “She was able to get some kills down the right side.”
DeVerter flourished in the final set, finding open spots in the opposing defense with ease. She produced a kill near the middle of the net to end the third set, during which the Lady Trojans gave away six points on service errors.
“That last set was closer than it should have been,” Hughes said. “There were a lot of points we just handed them. We were either hitting the ball into the net or hitting it out.”
But North Hall still pulled off a second-round playoff sweep of East Jackson for the second consecutive season, despite the all-around play of Lady Eagles middle blocker Syd Mathis.
She caused havoc, often early in sets — the senior had three kills to propel her team’s 5-0 lead in the opening set, single-handedly put the Lady Eagles ahead 3-2 in the second game and scored the first two points in the third set.
Mathis finished the night with 12 kills, three blocks and an ace along with several critical digs.
“She was a big blocker, and I personally struggled against her,” DeVerter said. “As good as she was as a hitter and making blocks at the net, she was just as a good of a passer. She was always there, ready to make a play on the ball.”
The Lady Trojans will likely face another such force in the middle as they progress through the playoffs seeking to one-up their historic 2016 run. Last season, North Hall made its first-ever appearance in the state semifinals, where it fell 3-1 to eventual state champion Westminster.
With an experienced and talented class of seven seniors — including career producers like DeVerter — the Lady Trojans hope to cap their four years of dominance with a state championship.
“Getting to this point in the playoffs makes you feel so proud of all the extra hours and extra work you had in the gym,” DeVerter said. “It makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.”