NORCROSS - Looking back, Mill Creek's first loss of the season might have come at an ideal time.
Hawks volleyball coach Analisa Wendt believes that lone loss to Wesleyan in the county tournament semifinals two weeks earlier helped energize her girls to beat host Norcross, 25-16, 25-19, 25-23, for the Area 7-AAAAA title Thursday at Norcross.
"(Losing to Wesleyan) showed us how hard we still have to work and that we still have some weaknesses," Wendt said. "It also took some of the pressure off."
Mill Creek (33-1) began the season 26-0 before that shortfall to Wesleyan, but the Hawks haven't missed a beat since.
Thursday's victory over Norcross (19-16) marked Mill Creek's first area tournament championship in its six years of existence, and ruined the Blue Devils hopes of a third consecutive.
The Hawks won the tournament by sweeping North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge and Norcross and have won seven straight matches.
Norcross coach Kevin Dove knew Clemson-bound hitter Moneshia Simmons would be Mill Creek's big weapon in the final, and as feared, she proved too much for the Devils to handle in the teams' second meeting this season. Just as she'd sparked the Hawks' 25-12, 25-15 win over the Devils a week earlier, Simmons had 20 kills and three blocks in the area final. Lauren Rhodes contributed 12 kills and two blocks, and Lindsay Davis chipped in six kills and two blocks.
"You've got probably the best player (Simmons) in the state on the other side of the net, and they just keep feeding everything to her," Dove said. "It's hard to stop someone who's essentially unstoppable."
Now the first and second qualifiers from area, Mill Creek and Norcross host sectional matches next week.
The area's third and fourth qualifiers, Peachtree Ridge and North Gwinnett, will travel, as all four Gwinnett squads vie for a spot among the state's final eight at Parkview.
Averaging 10 kills and a .430 hitting percentage, Simmons drove home the first two points of Thursday's final, and the Hawks never looked back. Mill Creek overcame Norcross' four-point lead early in the second game, and had to break a 21-21 tie in the third.
Norcross' Briana Jordan, who entered the final averaging nine kills, had 15 kills and 13 digs against Mill Creek. Alex DeMercy had eight kills and Sara Snider and Hannah Dahl tallied 10 digs apiece.
Wendt said steadiness is key from here.
"You have to focus on minimizing the giveaways and build on the momentous times," she said. "We have to work on not making mistakes."