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North Hall's Grace Hollifield coming into her own as a volleyball player in senior season
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North Hall's Grace Hollifield spikes the ball during a match against Cherokee Bluff at Cherokee Bluff High School on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

When Grace Hollifield first showed up to North Hall volleyball tryouts as a freshman in 2015, she had never played the sport at a competitive level, but Lady Trojans head coach Emi Hughes knew immediately what kind of impact Hollifield could have if she put the work in.

“She was a great athlete,” Hughes said. “But it was a situation where we knew we could make her a great volleyball player, too.”

Four years later, Hughes’ premonition seems to have come true.

Now a senior, Hollifield has developed into a dominant middle hitter for North Hall, cleaning up the net with regularity and helping to lead the Lady Trojans to a 17-13 record so far this season. She has been a key factor in North Hall reaching two state semifinals and a state quarterfinal match over the last three years, all the while keeping a team-first mentality that has done wonders for the team’s cohesion.

“I can’t say it’s because of me,” Hollifield said of the team’s recent success. “All my teammates, it’s been so easy to play with all of them. We’re always lifting each other up. It’s a positive environment, and it’s easy to play in that.”

The road to her senior year has not been an easy one for Hollifield.

After suffering an ankle injury as a sophomore, she was forced to sit out much of her second season with the team. And though she was already behind most of the other girls in her development as a volleyball player, Hughes said Hollifield never missed a chance to improve in any way she could, even when she wasn’t healthy enough to play.

“She was doing everything she could in that boot just to learn the game and get better, knowing that other people have been playing for longer than she had,” Hughes said. “That’s the kind of athlete she is.”

As soon as she was cleared to return to the court, Hollifield started to grow into the player Hughes knew she could be from the beginning.

Athleticism was never an issue for Hollifield, who was naturally tall and had played basketball competitively from a young age. In her time as a forward with the Lady Trojans, Hollifield honed her jumping ability — a trait that gave her an edge as a hitter on the volleyball court.

“I do the jump ball in basketball, and that helps me a lot in volleyball,” she said. “Using my arms and legs to be able to jump somewhat high to be able to hit it, that definitely helps.”

This season, she’s trying to translate her aggression in the paint into a more physical presence at the net, and both she and Hughes have started to see the improvement in her game, as have college coaches.

Though Hollifield initially planned on playing basketball at the next level, her growing love of volleyball has turned pursuing both sports into a legitimate possibility.

“I think I’d miss both of them if I chose not to play,” she said. “I guess I just have to figure that out.”

For now, Hollifield remains undecided when it comes to college selection as she stays focused on more immediate plans — like bringing a state championship back to North Hall.

After falling just a match or two short of a state title appearance in each of the last three seasons, getting over that hump has become one of the biggest motivators for Hollifield and the rest of the Lady Trojans senior class.

“It motivates Grace as a leader and as our go-to person,” Hughes said. “Not only is she the biggest person on the court, but she has that presence. I think she’s hungry for them as a team to set this mark.”

With only one more chance at reaching the ultimate goal of any high school volleyball player, Hollifield and the rest of the North Hall team remain zeroed in on winning it all.

“Getting so close we can see it, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet, we all just want to get there,” she said. “It’s still an accomplishment to get to the Final Four, but we really just want a state championship.”

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