ATLANTA - In the Class AAAA volleyball tournament quarterfinals Saturday at Marist, one era came to an end while another lived on for at least one more round.
Heritage's come-from-behind victory in Game 2 evened its best-of-five match with defending state champion Sandy Creek, but the Patriots from Fayette County won Games 3 and 4 to advance to the semifinals.
It turned out to be the final match for a 10-player senior class that helped Heritage advance past the second round for the first time since 2005.
"It hasn't hit in. I don't feel it as much yet, but it'll hit when we don't have volleyball practice Monday," Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said of his departing seniors. "(Advancing to the quarterfinals is) not only a testament to their season, it's a testament to their four years on varsity."
Things didn't look good early for the Area 8-AAAA champions. Sandy Creek jumped out to leads of 8-1 and 21-5 in Game 1 before Mikayla Charles had two kills and Mikala Flonnoy added an ace to cut the deficit to 21-8. But two more Heritage errors and a kill from Chanelle Smith sealed a 25-9 victory.
Game 2 was different. The teams went back and forth early with Sandy Creek taking a 13-8 lead on kills by Smith and Allie Davenport. Heritage didn't quit, getting two kills from Flinnoy, one from Charles and an ace from Rachel Jubran to make it a 17-15 game and force Sandy Creek coach Paul Collins to burn a timeout.
Heritage seized control after that, putting together a 10-4 run down the stretch that included a 7-2 closing spurt aided by kills from seniors Charles and Taylor Bailey and a block-kill from Kacie Bradley, another senior, that capped a 25-21 win and evened the match.
"The speed of the game, the emotion of the game, we came out flat (in Game 1)," Buddenbaum said. "We did a much better job in Game 2. It showed that we belonged a little bit. I think it showed we can play with the top teams."
The pivotal third game mirrored the opener as Sandy Creek ran out to an 8-0 lead behind three aces from Samantha Bryan. Senior Arabia Umrani and Charles each had a kill to help cut the lead to 9-2, but the defending champs took over from there, scoring 12 of the next 15 points, two on kills by Danielle Smith and four on Heritage errors.
"The big difference in the games (2 and 3), they served us and served us and served us, and if you can't serve receive at this level, you can't win," said Buddenbaum. "(And) we just didn't score."
Having to win Game 4 to force a deciding game, Heritage played well early on. A Lady Patriots' 5-0 run helped push the lead to 6-4 on Bailey's block-kill. Later, an error by Danielle Smith tied the score at 9-9.
But Sandy Creek, which has won 50 games in three of the last four seasons, went on a 6-0 run of its own, helped by a kill and ace from Danielle Smith, and Kalah Jones' kill. Heritage got an ace and kill from Charles and a kill each from Bailey and Umrani to make it a 19-14 game, but the Smith sisters, Chanelle (two kills) and Danielle (three kills) put the Lady Patriots two wins away from consecutive state titles.
"I really thought in Game 4 we were going to push it a little further. It was close and (Sandy Creek) kind of pulled away," Buddenbaum said. "They're extremely good (and) as athletic as any team. We still had a successful season. We had goals to win a lot of matches, which we did; most wins we've ever had. We wanted to advance in state and we advanced two rounds. I'm happy with our year."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.