Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Dede Bohannon (10) returns a shot against Hebron during a state volleyball championship quarterfinal match on Saturday. GAC defeated Hebron in three consecutive games.
NORCROSS -- When the Hebron Christian volleyball team made it to the Class AA/A Elite Eight for the first time in 2009, the Lions lost to the eventual state winner.
As far as Judy Conner is concerned, that has probably happened again.
"When I first saw Greater Atlanta Christian this year I thought, 'That's the championship team,'" the Hebron coach said.
GAC showed again Saturday why Conner was so impressed at first glimpse, sweeping the Lions 25-12, 25-15 and 25-10 at the Long Forum to reach the state semifinals for the third time.
The top-seeded Spartans (30-4) will play Holy Innocents' (28-11) on Wednesday at Athens Academy. The championship is next Saturday at Marietta and GAC will be favored to be there seeking its first state title.
"They are the best team I've seen," Conner said. "Not just this year, but since I've been coaching."
Holy Innocents', though, will hardly be semifinal pushover. The Golden Bears, seeded No. 4, rallied at home to edge No. 5 Athens Academy in a five-set battle to prevent a home-court edge in the semifinals.
GAC's season ended in the quarterfinals at Athens Academy last year. But that Spartans team didn't have any seniors and didn't have Dede Bohannon. Now Bohannon, a transfer from Newnan, is one of eight GAC seniors and the team is on a roll.
No. 8 seed Hebron, the No. 4 state tournament seed from Area 4, lost to the Spartans for the third time this season and still hasn't won a game.
Of course, that has been the case with most of GAC's opponents. The Spartans have won 15 matches in a row and 34 of their past 35. In those victories, they haven't lost a game.
Hebron (28-20) led 5-3 in the first game, but GAC never trailed after that. The Lions, though, were able to keep all three games competitive.
"We weren't as sharp as we have been," GAC coach Kristy Shelton said. "Give Hebron some credit for that. They are a good defensive team."
Bohannon had 10 of GAC's 39 kills and also contributed 12 digs and three of the Spartans' nine aces. Morgan McKnight had nine kills, Ali Cox seven and Janaya Simmons five. Catherine Chason had nine digs.
GAC scored six straight points after falling behind 5-3 in the first game and scored the final six points after Hebron had gotten back to within 19-15.
The second game was also close, with GAC not putting Hebron away until a late 5-0 streak. The Spartans took a 6-1 lead in the third game, but the Lions rallied to get within three points before GAC again took charge.
The Lions' got a standing ovation from their fans after the sweep in recognition of their unexpected state tournament run.
"We made it to the Elite Eight when we weren't expected to," Conner said. "I'm very proud of this team."
Eden Murray had eight kills for the Lions, while Maddi Roof contributed six and Millie Russell four. Savannah Blalock had 20 assists and Mimi Schulte made four blocks.
GAC also reached the Final Four in 2007 and 2009, losing to eventually state champion Wesleyan both times. Now the Spartans are the team that everyone is trying to knock off.
"We beat Holy Innocents' in August, but they have improved a lot since then," Shelton said. "Of course, so have we."
No one would argue with that. GAC is on quite a roll.