By Scott Smith
NORCROSS - Even though Gwinnett County is teeming with class AAAAA schools, the finals of the Gwinnett County volleyball tournament on Saturday afternoon came down to a pair of schools from the state's smallest classification.
Two rivals - Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian - each outlasted the rest of the county to face each other for the first county championship. The Wolves took the crown by sweeping the Spartans in two games 25-13, 25-14.
Wesleyan, ranked No. 1 in Class AA/A and the winners of the last three state tournaments, came into Saturday riding a nine-match winning streak. During that stretch, Wesleyan had dropped just one game and that was to the Spartans back on Sept. 27.
"We wanted to be in a tournament situation where we had to play for a championship," Wesleyan head coach Ted Russell said. "Playing for a championship, there's a certain amount of pressure in learning how to go through that experience, and we want to have as many opportunities as we can to do something like that.
"We're not surprised that we played GAC because they always have a good program. There's a chance that we will play them again in the region tournament and maybe even again at state."
Wesleyan (39-6) started its day with a quick 25-7, 25-6 sweep of Providence and then faced its neighbor from across the street in Norcross.
Norcross, ranked eighth in Class AAAAA, knocked out Dacula in two tight games 26-24, 25-22 but didn't fare as well against Wesleyan as the Wolves swept the Blue Devils 25-8, 25-15.
GAC (30-8) also started the day strong with a two-game sweep of Brookwood 25-18, 25-16 and advanced to the semifinals to face Parkview, who earlier ousted Mill Creek 25-20, 25-21.
GAC won the opening game against the Panthers 25-21, but Parkview rallied in the second game and forced a third game with a 25-16 win. However, GAC buckled down and reached the finals with a 25-18 win.
"We felt that Wesleyan would be in the finals and our goal was to be there with them," GAC head coach Kristy Shelton said. "There's some really good teams here in Gwinnett, and I knew we were going to be pushed. It wasn't an easy road to get here."
Once the finals started, however, Wesleyan took control early and never let up, winning the first game 25-13. Anne Marie Armstrong, who tallied 29 kills, 18 digs and 12 aces during the day, got her team off to a quick 5-0 lead with her strong jump serve while Betsy Smith (26 kills, 11 aces, nine digs on the day) and Haley Collins (18 kills, 11 digs, seven aces) each played well up front.
GAC, ranked No. 4 in Class AA/A, fought back in the second game and trailed by just one point at 8-7 when the Wolves went on a 12-3 run to regain the momentum. Grace Leah Baughn, who had a solid day at hitter, capped off the afternoon with her 13th kill of the day.
One possible reason for the swiftness of the last match was that the Wesleyan players had an event they didn't want to be late for.
"It's homecoming this weekend and the dance starts in about two hours," Russell said. "The final was scheduled for 2:30 but was pushed back and they got a little nervous. They didn't say anything and played real focused considering a major event in their high school career was waiting for them."
Maggie Smith also had a good day for Wesleyan with 83 assists, 12 digs and five aces while GAC's Alex Shelton compiled 42 assists in the last two matches. Amanda Komisarow added 14 kills for the Spartans while Katie Rowell finished with 12 kills in the semis and the finals.
The Silver bracket of the tournament also took place at Norcross High School with Grayson defeating North Gwinnett in that final.
Leading the Rams to the Silver bracket championship were Ansley Cash (63 digs for the tournament), Stephanie Cash (74 assists), Nicki Hannon (27 kills, 18 blocks) and Manyi Ati (27 kills, 17 blocks).