The Lady Warriors had recently won the third set, and they were attempting to pull even in the best-of-five Area 3AAAAAA championship, with the score knotted at 20-all in the fourth set.
North Cobb took a one-point lead when a Harrison player was called for hitting the net. But Lady Hoyas coach Clay Taylor disliked the decision, made sure the officials knew it, and he was issued a yellow card for his efforts.
“The yellow card was on purpose,” Taylor said. “I realized I couldn’t argue that call, but I figured, maybe, I can take one for the team and maybe create a spark.”
“It made me mad,” said outside hitter Caroline Ostman, who was playing for the first time after rolling her ankle about three weeks ago. “When I get mad, I play better and I want to hit the ball harder. I think (Taylor’s yellow card) fired up the whole team.”
Tied at 24-all after a Harrison attack error, Taylor called a timeout to set up a play that worked to perfection. Olivia Windover landed a kill off an assist from Andie Karmel, and a North Cobb ball-handling error resulted in a two-point set win that gave Harrison a 25-21, 25-16, 20-25, 26-24 victory and its third straight area championship.
Harrison (45-6) will host Lassiter, the No. 4 seed from Area 4AAAAAA, in Wednesday’s first-round match of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
“Off the three (area titles), this is probably the most satisfying, because of all the sick and injured girls we had,” Taylor said. “Taylor (Haskins) was throwing up (Saturday) morning. Kelly (Scott) had a sprained wrist, and it was Caroline’s first day back after rolling her ankle.
“It’s satisfying to see how the girls had the guts to push through that. North Cobb gave us all they had, and I’m so proud of the girls for being able to claw out this championship.”
Haskin finished with 10 kills, six digs, three aces and two blocks for Harrison, while Scott totaled 25 assists, 11 digs, four kills and three blocks. Ostman added eight kills and seven digs.
Harrison’s victory was anything but easy.
A Lady Hoyas attack error led to a 9-all tie in the first set, but Ostman’s kill ignited a 6-0 run that put Harrison in front 15-9. An error pulled the Lady Warriors to within 21-20, but the Lady Hoyas won five of the next points to claim the first set.
Harrison was tied twice, but it never trailed in the second set. Savanna Gonzales’ kill allowed North Cobb to tie at 11-all, but the Lady Hoyas used a 10-3 run behind the service efforts of Kodi Smith and Haskins for a 21-14 margin, leading to the nine-point second-set win.
Despite playing in its third match of the day, North Cobb came out on fire in the third set, erasing an early 7-4 deficit to knot the contest nine times before taking a 19-18 lead following an ace from Tate Pember. Leading 21-20, Madi Dukes’ kill spurred a 4-0 run to close out the set as the Lady Warriors began their comeback.
“It’s hard to beat a team with 40-plus wins like Harrison,” North Cobb coach James Auld said. “I’m proud of the girls. They seemed to get stronger as the match wore on despite the day they had.”
The fourth set, which included 16 ties, was close throughout as North Cobb held the largest lead at 4-0 early on. North Cobb fought off two match points when it trailed 24-22 behind a block from Dukes and an attack error that led to the 24-all tie.
“Our kids on the floor don’t get nervous,” Taylor said. “They’re focused on the moment and looking two points ahead. Remembering the scouting report is like second nature to them, and that’s when good things happen.”
Windover had three kills and 11 digs for Harrison. Karmel added seven kills and three digs, while Catherine Gallaher had 15 digs. Kodi Smith collected 10 kills, 11 digs and two aces.
Harrison advanced to the championship match after beating North Cobb 23-25, 25-22, 25-22 in the winners’ bracket championship. North Cobb bested Hillgrove 22-25, 25-19, 25-16 in the losers’ bracket final to face Harrison again for the title.
“Without a doubt, playing three matches in one day made things tougher for us in that championship,” Auld said. “To go three sets with both Harrison and Hillgrove, and then four in the end, can wear on you. Bu, the girls believed in themselves and played some great matches.”
Pember totaled 22 digs, while Dukes had five kills and five digs. Taylor Parrish added 40 assists, Gonzales had 12 kills and six digs and Abby Miller contributed seven kills, nine digs and three aces. Shauntell Luke had nine kills and two blocks. Jessica Elliott recorded 11 digs and three aces.
As the area runner-up, North Cobb will host third-seeded Etowah on Wednesday. Hillgrove, the No. 3 seed, will travel to second-seeded Woodstock.
Kennesaw Mountain, which fell to Hillgrove in a losers’ bracket match, will visit Area 4AAAAAA champion Walton. McEachern, the No. 5 team of 3AAAAAA, will travel to the runner-up of Area 2AAAAAA.