TUNNEL HILL — For the second straight season, Northwest Whitfield High School's volleyball team is bound for the Elite 8.
In the second round of the Class 4A playoffs against Central-Carroll Saturday, Northwest cruised through the first two sets and made a comeback in the third for the 3-0 win to send the host Lady Bruins into the third round.
The Lady Bruins, who made a run to the state finals last season before falling to Marist, will host Chestatee, the third-seeded team from Area 8-4A, in the Elite 8 on Wednesday.
"We don't want to be the team that's one-and-done," Northwest head coach Kelsey Ikerd said of last season's run. "We want to be that team that consistently has those high expectations and to be the team to try to meet those expectations every day in practice and in school."
On Saturday, the top-seeded team in Area 7-4A, Northwest, quickly took leads in the first two sets over Central, Area 1-4A's second seed.
The Lady Bruins (39-6) used a 6-0 run to turn a 3-3 first set into a 9-3 advantage, and the Lady Lions (22-25-1) never could get much closer. Northwest took a 19-11 advantage, then kept at it after Central called timeout in hopes of stopping the Northwest momentum. The Lady Bruins took the first set 25-13.
In the second set, Northwest again took control after some point-trading early on. Led by kills from Emma Allen, the Lady Bruins went on a 13-1 run to take a 16-4 lead. Central closed to 20-13, but Northwest took the set 25-14.
"I saw a lot of clean play," Ikerd said. "That's been our goal at practice is just to focus on cleaning up and honing in on the things that we do well."
In the third set, Central looked like a team that wasn't ready to call it quits on the season just yet.
A spirited start saw the Lady Lions get out to a 4-1 and 9-5 advantage.
"When you play against a team that is very scrappy and plays hard, you can't really out-finesse them," Ikerd said. "You just have to play with discipline."
The disciplined Lady Bruins calmly chipped back into the game and tied it by the time both teams reached 11. The score stayed within a couple of points until Northwest turned a 16-16 tie into a 20-17 advantage.
"In practice, we'll set the score where we're down late in the game," Ikerd said. "What are we going to do to come back? When you play in the state tournament, you're going to play teams that are as good, if not better, than you, so you have to withstand some storms. Our goal is to always have one big rally at the end and score the final two points. That's what we did today."
They did just that, scoring the final two to win the third set 25-21.
Northwest has yet to drop a set in the first two rounds of victories. The Lady Bruins' Elite 8 opponent, Chestatee, knocked off Thompson County Central, which was the top seed in Area 4-4A