MONROE - The Heritage volleyball team picked the perfect time to beat Monroe Area for the first time this season.
After all, the Lady Patriots' 21-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 15-7 victory earned them the Area 8-AAAA championship Saturday night on the Lady Purple Hurricanes' home floor.
Heritage (31-19 overall) advances to play Dalton in the opening round of the Class AAAA state tournament at 3 p.m. Thursday at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone.
"It feels good to win an area championship again. I was thinking our last time was 2002, but it was in 2005, so it really hasn't been that long," Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said. "We kind of forgot what it was like, though. These girls are good girls. They enjoy playing, they love the game. It's a good reward for them for the work they've put in over the last year. "
At one point on Saturday, the area championship was the last thing on the Lady Patriots' minds.
Heritage opened the tournament with a 25-18, 25-17 victory over Winder-Barrow and then clinched a state tournament berth with a 26-24, 21-25, 25-17 decision over Habersham Central.
But Monroe Area promptly sent Heritage into the losers' bracket with a 25-19, 25-15 victory.
That loss forced the Lady Patriots into a rematch with Habersham Central, the No. 10-ranked team in the state.
Heritage came out firing on all on cylinders, jumping out to a 14-4 lead in the opening game before cruising to a 25-16 victory.
In the second game, the Lady Patriots won seven straight points after the game was tied at 12, holding on for a match-clinching 25-21 victory.
"I told the girls they still had a chance to play for the championship (before the second Habersham Central match) and I told them to figure out how they were going to get there," Buddenbaum said. "I honestly don't know what they did or what they talked about, but whatever they did worked."
Up next, Heritage faced a rematch with Monroe Area in the championship.
The Lady Purple Hurricanes, who also won the regular season matchup, built a 15-5 lead in the first game and prevailed 25-21.
In the second game, the Lady Patriots were on the verge of falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-five match, trailing 22-21. But three straight kills from Kacie Bradley, Mikayla Charles and Taylor Bailey put Heritage in front 24-22.
Olivia Wasdin's strong serve set up the final point as the Lady Patriots tied the match.
In the third game, Monroe Area claimed five of the final six points to collect a 25-19 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
But once again, Heritage fought back to tie the match. The Lady Patriots built an 11-5 lead early in game four only to see Monroe Area take a 22-21 lead.
After a timeout, the Lady Patriots took the game's final four points, including a key block by Bailey, to win the match 25-21.
In the fifth game, Heritage trailed only once early at 2-1. Every time Monroe Area closed the gap, the Lady Patriots answered the challenge.
Holding a slim 7-6 advantage, Heritage won six of the next seven points for a 13-7 lead. Rachel Jubran's kill and Arabia Umrani's ace highlighted the run.
After a Monroe Area timeout, Jubran added two more service points to close out the match. Heritage wrapped up the victory on a Charles kill.
"I didn't feel comfortable until (we led) 14-7 (in game five)," Buddenbaum said. "I think the match turned in our favor when we came back in game four. We were down in game four, but we came back and won 25-22.
"We served really well in the whole match. I think we served at 92 percent in the match. We didn't have a lot of aces, but we served well. Serving is not always about getting aces, it's about putting them on the defensive."
Charles paced the Lady Patriots with 42 kills in the tournament, while Bailey added 37 kills and a team-high 15 blocks.
Mikala Flonnoy paced Heritage in assists with 63 and added 33 service points, including eight aces.
Wasdin finished with a team-high 39 service points and seven aces. Umrani chipped in 29 service points and eight aces.
Jubran also had 54 assists.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.