North Cobb coach James Auld then called timeout after giving up a six-point lead, and whatever Auld and his players discussed must have worked.
The Lady Warriors went on to win the next five points — four coming with Auburn-bound libero Tate Pember on the service line — and prevailed 25-22, 24-26, 25-14, 23-25, 15-10 to advance to the state quarterfinals.
North Cobb (40-15) will have three days to prepare before Saturday’s quarterfinal. The final eight teams — half of which are from Cobb County — will be reseeded, and the top four seeds will host.
North Cobb ended Etowah’s season for the second straight year, with both matches going to five sets, and the Lady Warriors reached the state quarterfinals for the third straight year.
“The momentum swung back and forth. It was a great match,” said Etowah coach Kim Robertson, who once served the same role at North Cobb. “It just comes down to execution.”
Behind a seven-point service run in the third set that gave North Cobb separation, Pember returned to the service line upon the 10-all tie in the fifth set and put it upon herself to serve out and keep the Lady Warriors’ season alive.
“I told myself to play like I was taught and to have confidence in myself and in my teammates,” Pember said.
The Lady Warriors overcame lackluster passing on Pember’s first point and won it on a Kaitlyn Woodruff kill. Pember came through with an ace on the next point, for a 13-10 lead, and followed that up with a short serve that set up another Woodruff kill on a free ball.
While North Cobb’s first match point at 14-10 was a lengthy rally, the Lady Warriors were in control and finally finished on another Woodruff kill.
Etowah (31-16) came up short despite successful play from its front row. Blocking alone gave the Lady Eagles a chance to win, with Kylie Blanton finishing with two blocks and three block-assists. Setter Sydney Hotaling finished with 34 assists.
Paige Horton had one solo block and two block-assists to go with her 12 kills. Jenna Lea also had 12 kills, and Natalie Lucco was the offensive leader with 20 kills. In the sets they won, the Lady Eagles blocked well against Savanna Gonzales, who led North Cobb with 20 kills.
As for North Cobb, Pember and its two other seniors, Woodruff and Madi Dukes, stepped up. Pember ended up with 37 digs, Woodruff had 15 kills and Dukes finished with six and had two block assists.
“You rely on those seniors because they don’t want to be done,” Auld said. “And hats off to Etowah. They played the best I’ve ever seen them play.”
Etowah struggled on serve-receive at times and North Cobb took advantage, especially in the third set. The Lady Warriors built a 23-12 lead following Taylor Parrish’s kill off a free ball.
But to Etowah’s credit, it bounced back in the fourth set with its defensive play. Back-to-back Lucco kills gave the Lady Eagles a 12-8 lead, and they maintained the lead before a three-point run on Woodruff’s serve gave North Cobb a 20-19 lead.
The teams traded points until Lucco delivered another smash for a 23-22 lead, which was followed then by a hitting error from Dukes. Despite Pember hitting a near-perfect serve on match point, Etowah recovered and won on a free ball by Allie Elson that North Cobb was unable to touch.
“The girls said, ‘Let’s come together and step it up,’” Robertson said. “They wanted to show they could come back. I just wish our seniors could have made the elite eight. Two years in a row, we lost to North Cobb.”
Gonzales came out strong for North Cobb when the fifth set began. She had five kills in the set’s first nine points to set the tone, and the Lady Warriors eventually built a 9-3 lead.
But Etowah had some fight left and got back into the set on a four-point run on Madeline Gilmer’s serve. Lea had two kills during the run and was in on a block alongside Blanton.
Etowah tied it at 10-all on a North Cobb passing error before the Lady Warriors won the last five points.