LILBURN -- Friday Brookwood volleyball players attended Emory University's match against Lee University, where they met players, toured the locker room and listened in on a pregame strategy meeting.
The team-building experience proved invaluable Saturday, when the Broncos beat Grayson for the Area 8-AAAAA title at Parkview, 18-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-12, in what Brookwood coach Brian Welsch considered one of his squad's most together matches.
Brookwood enters Thursday's state playoffs having beaten Grayson in all three of the teams' meetings this season, Saturday's nearly having gone the distance the previous two best-of-three-game matches did. Remarkably, the Broncos, who dropped into the loser's bracket Thursday, won the title Saturday by beating Archer, Dacula, Parkview and Grayson.
Brookwood enters state as the region's top seed and will host its first-round match, as will second-seeded Grayson. Third- and fourth-seeded Parkview and Dacula travel.
"It's always hard to beat a team three times, especially one the caliber of Grayson," Welsch said.
Welsch felt his Broncos (33-16) beat themselves in the first game of Saturday's final, when Grayson (22-17) raced ahead 11-5 and never looked back. Grace Basile got cranked up toward her seven kills for the Rams, while Kristi Cheesman got a head start on her six and Shenise Howard on her four kills and 13 assists.
But after dropping the first game, the Broncos caught fire. They led by as much as five in the second game and outscoring Grayson 8-0 and 14-2 to lead by as much as 24-8 in the decisive fourth.
"We knew we had to stay excited, and if we brought our intensity we'd win," said Brookwood's Katie Mallow, who had a match-high 12 kills. "We knew we had to push and finish them off when they were (15 points) down."
Brookwood's Beth Easom had a match-high 20 assists, along with eight digs and five aces. She said winning region was fitting revenge for last season's early elimination.
"We were coming for blood this time," she said. "It was a long road back from the loser's bracket, but it was nice to win when it counted."
Grayson coach Kimberly Mohr felt her team perhaps didn't play its best in two previous matches against Brookwood, but she said that wasn't the case Saturday.
"Brookwood just outplayed us this time," she said.
GAC wins 4A-AA title
NORCROSS -- Led by all-tournament team performances by Ali Cox, Catherine Chason and Rachel Waldrop, GAC swept Hebron 25-22, 25-22, 25-11 to win the Area 4A-AA tournament title Saturday.
Cox has six kills, seven digs and two aces, Chason added 11 digs and three aces and Waldrop had 33 assists in the three-game finals.
Morgan McKnight added nine kills, Kenzie Hobbs seven kills and Janaya Simmons had 15 digs for the Spartans (27-12).