Houston County volleyball head coach Maria Huelsman says there was really only one way to describe the first two meetings earlier in the season between her team and Northgate.
Manhandled Huelsman said. They straight out dominated us.
Tuesday nights GHSA Class AAAAA second-round playoff matchup was a bit closer, but Northgate still found a way to win, sweeping the Bears 25-19, 25-16 and 25-19.
Randee Harvel had 10 kills while Taylor Bigler had 16 assists to lead the Vikings to the win and a spot in the Elite Eight.
We know its always difficult to beat a team three straight times in a year, Northgate head coach Matt Trucks said. Even though we had beat them pretty good the first two times, we knew they would be ready for us, and they were. It is really amazing how much they have improved through the season, and I give Coach Huelsman a lot of credit. They are a great defensive team, but in the end I think we might have been a little too tall for them.
If the Bears were intimidated by the much taller Vikings, they did not show it. Houston County led most of the first game, but Northgate finally caught the Bears to tie it at 18. Northgate then scored seven of the next eight points to put the set away.
The second set was much the same, with Houston County holding onto the lead at 15-14 behind the strong play of Langely Anderson and Ashely Pegues, but once again the Vikings pulled away late, this time fueled by three aces from Bigler.
Northgate looked to put the match away early in the third set, jumping to a 14-7 lead behind the solid play of Harvel and Savannah Moore, but the Bears made one final effort to get back into things. Gabi Clevenger, who led the Bears with five kills, helped cut Northgates lead to 14-11, and then Anderson had consecutive aces to tie the set at 19. But two straight blocks and a kill by Moore iced the match for the visitors.
If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that this team would make it to the Sweet 16, I would have laughed in your face, said Huelsman, who is in her eighth season as the Bears head coach. All of the credit for the improvement starts with these kids, who have listened, who allowed themselves to be coached, and got to this point of the season with blood, sweat and tears. I cannot tell you how proud I am of them.
Anderson had a match-high 21 digs for Houston County, while Lainey Choinere had 14 assists.