Ultimately, though, the adjustments the Lady Hawks made after a sluggish first two sets weren’t enough.
Area 4AAAAAA runner-up Woodstock coasted through the first two sets and won the crucial points of the third to hold off Hillgrove’s surge, and while the Lady Hawks played better defense and were within striking range of extending the match, they had to settle for the 25-13, 25-17, 25-22 loss.
Woodstock (34-14) will either host South Gwinnett or play at Brookwood in the second round Tuesday. Meanwhile, Hillgrove, the No. 3 seed of Area 3AAAAAA, ended its season with a 29-13 record after starting it with a nine-match winning streak.
Mistakes were few and far between for Woodstock during the first two sets, making it tough for Hillgrove to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. The Lady Wolverines built leads of at least 10 points in the first two sets before holding on, leaving the Lady Hawks with plenty to discuss during the 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
“We talked about making minor adjustments, and, more importantly, we talked about what we needed to do to give it our all,” Hillgrove coach Shannon Mabrey said. “We had to play smart and play every point like it was our last.”
Hillgrove middle hitters Mackenzie Engram and Chioma Okonkwo got more involved and took away some of Woodstock’s hitting options once the third set started. Okonkwo’s kill on a free ball gave the Lady Hawks a 4-2 lead, and Hillgrove maintained its edge until Woodstock took it back on a Cassady Thompson kill.
The Lady Hawks retook a brief lead, 14-13 on a solo block by Kelly Arnold, but Woodstock took it right back on a Riley McBay kill that appeared to be going out of bounds before being touched by a Hillgrove player.
Hillgrove jumped in front one last time, at 19-18 on a passing error by Woodstock setter Grace Townsend, but the Lady Wolverines rebounded once again and jumped back in front 20-19 on a Thompson kill.
Woodstock managed to hold on to the lead for good by winning the critical points.
Kayla Ousley hit a first-ball kill for a 22-20 lead, and another Ousley kill soon after ended a long point and gave Woodstock a 23-21 lead.
After a hitting error by Engram gave Woodstock match point, Hillgrove saved the first attempt before Woodstock’s Sara Graf ended the match with a kill.
Arnold led Hillgrove with 10 kills, Okonkwo added six and Shayne Williamson finished with five. Engram was at her best in the third set with three kills and a block-assist. Myah Martin dished out 25 assists.
“Shannon did a good job coming back out in the third game,” Woodstock coach Anita Dodd said of the Hillgrove coach. “I felt like our girls wanted it so bad enough that they had to go get it. They had to put the ball down instead of letting it go back over.”