Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett players Gretja Otten (23) and Anna Mullins (9) celebrate a point against Milton during game 2 on Thursday. North Gwinnett defeated Milton in three consecutive games to win the first round of state volleyball playoffs Thursday.
SUWANEE -- Having to face North Cobb in the second round of the Class AAAAA state volleyball tournament certainly isn't an easy draw. But at least North Gwinnett will be at home next Tuesday.
Coach Vanessa Henry's team earned that with its second straight Area 7-AAAAA championship and continued its winning ways by sweeping Milton in the first round of the state tournament on Thursday.
North Gwinnett got a late scare in the second game, but otherwise dominated Milton, the No. 4 seed from Area 6, while prevailing 25-13, 25-22 and 25-8.
"They really believe," Henry said of her team. "They have the determination to go even further than last year and this was a good showing."
Now the Bulldogs (47-8) have to get ready for North Cobb (46-9). The Warriors are ranked No. 2 in the coaches' poll, while North Gwinnett is No. 4. North Cobb is a No. 2 seed in the state tournament because it lost to No. 1-ranked Harrison for the Area 5-AAAAA title.
North Gwinnett and North Cobb, which swept South Gwinnett in the first round, haven't met this season.
"We were in the same tournament during the season, but they were in a different pool," North Gwinnett senior Alex Panks said. "We know that they are a really good team."
So is North Gwinnett and the Bulldogs showed it once again against Milton.
North Gwinnett had 12 aces in the match and dominated at the net, with junior Miller Howard getting eight kills and senior Anna Mullins seven.
Howard also had 13 digs and junior MaTia Hughes added 10. Panks had 23 assists and a crowd-pleasing save that led to an important second-game point.
After pulling away to win the first game 25-13 with a 12-4 closing run, North Gwinnett went up 15-6 in the second game. But Milton (22-22) rallied to go ahead 22-20 thanks to a 16-5 run of its own.
"We got a little unfocused," Panks said.
But North Gwinnett regained focus and scored the last five points to take the game.
Then the Bulldogs dominated the third game to win going away and end the match with a sweep.
North Gwinnett has won 22 of its past 24 matches. Those two losses were to Mill Creek, but the Bulldogs got their revenge by beating the Hawks twice to win the Area 7-AAAAA championship.
"Our goal in the Final Four this year and hopefully further," Panks said. "We want to win it all if we can."