It would have been easy to believe that the team’s fourth meeting wouldn’t go very long, but Roswell had other ideas.
The Lady Raiders got challenged this time and rallied for a win in the best-of-five championship, leaving Milton High School with a 25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 25-17, 15-11 win.
With the win, its fourth straight area title, Walton (40-6) will host Area 8AAAAAA No. 4 Druid Hills on Thursday.
Roswell, Lassiter, Woodstock and Etowah rounded out the area’s five playoff-bound teams. The Lady Trojans will play their first-round match at Rockdale County
“It’s amazing,” Walton outside hitter Lindsay Seagraves said of her team’s lengthy battle Saturday. “We played well. We struggled a lot early, though, when we should have executed.”
Roswell assistant coach Damien Scott said his team never played its best game in its previous three meetings against Walton.
Saturday turned out to be a different story.
After Walton controlled the first set, Roswell kept the Lady Raiders’ leading hitters, Jessica Sloan and Seagraves, in check and punished Walton’s back row with aggressive serving.
During much of the second and third sets, Walton struggled on serve-receive and didn’t pass well. While Sloan and Seagraves got their share of kills during that stretch — Sloan finished the match with 30 and Seagraves had 12 —Roswell’s offense was the one in control.
The Lady Hornets maintained an average lead of four points throughout the sets they won. Alex Mills finished with a team-high 19 kills, and Sarah Hall added seven.
“We mainly keyed on certain people’s receive and gave them a lot of work,” Scott said. “We also went after their hitters that were passing.”
Not liking some of the matchups Roswell created, Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald made an adjustment toward the end of the third set by switching to a 6-2 formation — putting two setters on the floor, foregoing a libero and allowing all six players to attack — that gave the Lady Raiders more offensive options.
And while Sloan and Seagraves continued to provide the bulk of Walton’s hitting, more hitters got involved in the fourth set. Four of Ashley Miller’s six kills came after the third set, and she added five block-assists. Brooke Landon finished with seven kills, and Leah Jackson tacked on four.
Celeste Fitzgerald was Walton’s primary setter, finishing with 37 assists. Dalaney Hans added 11.
“We needed to switch to a 6-2, and we hadn’t done that all season,” Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “For the girls to handle that adjustment was great on their part.”
While the new formation helped Walton, Seagraves’ serving was what helped the Lady Raiders pull away in the fourth and fifth sets.
Seagraves embarked on a six-point service run in the fourth, using a variety of speeds to help open up a 20-14 lead. Her four-point run in the shortened fifth set gave the Lady Raiders a critical 13-5 lead.
She also had a six-point run in the first set to help Walton prevail.
“I would start serving short (balls) to pull (Roswell) in,” Seagraves said, “and then (coach Fitzgerald) would tell me to serve deep and pull them back.”
After Roswell fought off three of Walton’s six match point attempts in the final set, Sloan finished the scrappy Lady Hornets off with a kill on the first pass.
Lassiter had to come from behind in both sets to beat Woodstock 25-20, 26-24 in consolation play, allowing the Lady Trojans to secure at least the third seed for the state tournament.
Lassiter’s freshmen stepped up. Libby Bochniak led with 10 kills, and Alexus Holt finished with eight. Sam Link ended up with 20 assists.
Holt’s kill gave Lassiter its first match point, and Bochniak’s kill the second before senior Becca Ledford converted with a kill.
The Lady Trojans ended up as the No. 3 seed after having difficulty solving Mills and Roswell. They didn’t pass as well as they did their previous match, falling 25-19, 25-17.
“When you don’t pass the ball well against a team that hits the ball well, you’re going to play defense for a long time,” Lassiter coach Greg Hodge said. “But we’re still playing, and that’s all I can ask.”