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Rockdale volleyball reaches tournament semis for first time

The Rockdale volleyball team made history last weekend.

In its fifth appearance in the Sequoyah Invitational, the Bulldogs reached the semifinals for the first time, knocking off Cherokee, 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the silver bracket Saturday at River Ridge High School.

At Creekview High School later in the day, Rockdale fell 2-0 to South Forsyth in the semifinals.

The quarterfinal victory wasn’t easy as the Conyers school used a 14-5 run to close game one - aided by four of middle hitter Majesti Bass’ seven kills - that turned a 17-11 deficit into a 25-22 win.

“A lot of our girls, not many are that experienced. They haven’t seen that,” Cherokee coach Pam Bonitatibus said of Bass, a University of Georgia commitment.

Cherokee jumped out to an 11-1 lead in game two. Though Rockdale used strong serving to pick up four aces, including a pair consecutively from Nazzerine Waldon, to climb to within 15-14, Cherokee scored 10 of the final 11 points (seven of the Warriors’ points came on Rockdale errors) and evened the match at one game apiece.

In a tight rubber match neither team led by more than four points. Rockdale went up 8-4 on Chloe Brown’s kill, but Emily Pope and Hayley Rutledge each had a kill and Cherokee held a slim, 10-9 advantage. Rockdale regained the lead for good with three consecutive points all off Cherokee errors, and though Pope’s kill made it a 12-11 game, Rockdale got a kill each from Bass and Gabby Church to hang on for a 15-12 victory.

“We were openly frustrated out there (after game two, but) we’re getting stronger mentally,” said Rockdale coach Stephen Sansing. “I always say ‘that’s why we play 3’. So far we’ve won every game three we’ve played. It’s great competition…(the quarterfinal round has) been a tough hump to get over.”

In the semifinals, South Forsyth didn’t take its first lead in the opener until Rachel Ross’ kill made it 13-12, but the War Eagles never trailed again in winning 25-16. Game two was much tighter, though a 6-0 run aided by a pair of aces by Hannah Larson helped put South Forsyth up 15-9 midway through the game.

Rockdale got as close as 19-18 on Brown’s kill, then Avery Tutt fed Ross for two kills that gave the War Eagles a 22-18 cushion on their way to a 25-21 win.

Rockdale defeated Marietta 2-0 in the first round of bracket play, winning 25-14 and 25-17. In pool play, the Bulldogs dropped 2-0 matches to Lassiter (25-21, 30-28) and East Coweta (25-23, 25-9) Friday.

“I’ll call the last one (against East Coweta) and outlier because we lost all of these so close,” said Sansing late Friday night.

Bass secured nine kills and Shivon Gray handed out 19 assists as Rockdale defeated Cherokee 25-14 and 25-17 in the final match of pool play.