SUWANEE -- Looking back, that loss to Wesleyan in the final of the Gwinnett Championships seven matches ago might have been just the learning experience North Gwinnett volleyball players needed.
Though it snapped the Bulldogs' 26-match win streak, it helped Gwinnett's only ranked team keep its feet on the ground.
"That was a measurement for us, whether and how we could beat teams like Wesleyan and go farther," said Bulldogs coach Vanessa Henry. "It showed us what parts of our game we had to work on most."
Ranked No. 4 in Class AAAAA and fresh off their first-ever Area 7-AAAAA championship, the Bulldogs find themselves in Tuesday's second round of state at home against Grayson. It's only a recently familiar place for North, considering just last year the Bulldogs reached the second round for the first time, against Walton.
Thursday's opening-round sweep of visiting Westlake 25-8, 25-14, 25-8 has the Bulldogs believing this could be their best season yet.
"We've really come together as a team," said Bulldogs junior hitter Kelsea Knudsen. "We've all become really close and are playing well together."
Westlake never seriously challenged North and was clearly outmatched by the Bulldogs height. Christina Stinson served nearly the entire second half of the first game en route to eight aces on the night. She also had eight kills, including one that ended the match.
"I've been working really hard on trying to get my serve more consistent," said Stinson, who recalled having a season-high 12 aces in one match. "Before every serve, Kelsea gives me a zone to serve in, and I try to serve it there."
Knudsen finished with nine kills, while Annie Wheeler had seven and Alex Panks chipped in 24 assists.
Henry said her girls' well-rounded play showed how hard they've worked on little things. "We had to work on serving and passing," she said. "The rest of our game is down pat."
Henry said she likes her girls' play en route to what they dream will be a trip to the semifinals at Kennesaw Mountain on Oct. 27 and the finals at Marietta on Oct. 30.
"It feels good being ranked," Henry said. "So far we've done a good job handling the pressure."