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Wesleyan rides momentum to county crown

SUWANEE - Momentum is essential in volleyball. Just ask Wesleyan's girls.

After handing Mill Creek its first loss this season in the Gwinnett County Championships' gold bracket semifinals, the Wolves parlayed that excitement into a championship victory over Norcross to repeat as the only winner of the 3-year-old tournament.

The 25-9, 25-11 victory was nearly a carbon copy of last year's final, in which the Wolves beat the Blue Devils, 26-24, 25-23.

"Beating a team of Mill Creek's caliber really gave us a lot of confidence," Wolves coach Ted Russell said of the emotion for the championship match dubbed the Battle of Spalding Drive, between schools across the street from one another. "It's nice to have bragging rights (on the same street)"

Wesleyan (24-15) beat Norcross (13-11) at the Suwanee Sports Academy, thanks to Anna Keappler's 12 kills, Grace Leah Baughn's eight and Maggie Smith's 19 assists.

But perhaps as big as the championship was Wesleyan dethroning previously unbeaten Mill Creek (26-1) in the semifinals, 25-23, 25-22. Though the Hawks' Clemson-bound Moneshia Simmons hammered 13 kills at them, the Wolves prevailed with Keappler's 13 and Baughn's seven. Haley Collins and Paige Lamons chipped in six digs apiece, and Lamons and Smith both added four aces.

Mill Creek was favored to win the gold bracket for the top two finishers in each of five pools Thursday. After all, it was the Hawks who had beaten defending Class AAAAA champion Northview in straight games three weeks earlier.

Hawks coach Analisa Wendt was impressed by Wesleyan's versatility.

"(Wesleyan) covered the floor really well and were very consistent," said Hawks coach Analisa Wendt. "We missed a couple serves here and there, and you take those away, you never know."

The silver bracket, for second- and third-place finishers from pool play, was equally competitive. Providence Christian, after turning back Brookwood in the semifinals, beat Dacula, 25-23, 25-16, in the championship match. The Stars (19-10) used Caroline Adams' 13 kills and Jenny Hersh's three to beat the Falcons (9-17). Adams had eight kills, eight blocks and five aces in the semifinals, where Hersh and Mandy Parker contributed six and five kills, respectively.

Now 19-10, coach Beth Howd owns the winningest team in Providence's nine years of existence. She felt her girls had lost momentum after a 10-day layoff earlier this month, but have gained it back.

"We did an awesome job," she said. "We finally got our chemistry back and things finally jelled."