Buford ousted in nailbiter at state volleyball quarterfinals

WATKINSVILLE -- Pinpointing a time when the Class AAA state volleyball quarterfinal match between Buford and Oconee County took a turn one way or another may take a while.

It was that close.

In the end, No. 4 seed Oconee County pulled out a 3-2 win over No. 5 seed Buford with set scores of 16-25, 25-15, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13.

But the two-hour match was competitive from start to finish with emotions and momentum swinging back and forth, especially in the fourth and deciding fifth sets.

Buford (22-16) came out on fire, leading throughout the first set and taking it 25-16.

But Oconee County regrouped and came back to win the second set in identical fashion, leading from start to finish.

Oconee County maintained that confidence into the third set as the Warriors took the lead at 4-3 and then held on down the stretch for a 25-22 victory. Buford trailed by as many as eight points at 16-8, but pulled to within one at 18-17 before falling by three.

The fourth set saw six lead changes and six ties, but both teams also battled back from big deficits throughout the set.

Tied at 16-all, Buford scored nine of the final 12 points to pull away for the 25-19 win.

That set the stage for a winner-take-all fifth set.

Oconee County jumped out to a 6-2 lead, but Buford bounced back and tied it at 7-7.

From there, the teams were tied six more times and neither squad could build more than a one-point lead.

Then, with the match tied 13-13, Oconee County got two straight kills from senior Maya Murphy and the Warriors were on their way to the state semifinals.

"I really feel like this match just came down to point for point in the end," Buford head coach Hadli Daniels said. "We got down 2-1 after winning the first set and we came up with a strategy that was working and the team was executing. We were being smart and we fought back. Volleyball is such a sport of momentum. We gave 100 percent and I'm so proud of them."

Maggie Roper led the way for Buford with 21 kills, 19 digs and two aces. Bree Horracks had seven kills and four blocks.

Sydney Steinlage added six kills, while Kat Tatum had five kills, eight aces and two blocks for the Wolves.

Buford also got solid contributions from Tori Payton with 35 asssts, six digs and two aces. Hannah Manley had four kills and three blocks and Mikhayla Riegel had 19 digs and three aces.

Buford had 18 total serving aces in the match.

Oconee County was paced by Murphy's 11 kills and the Warriors also got 11 kills from Olivia Fromm.

Emma Meehan added nine kills and three aces while Jana Kelnhofer had 32 assists and three aces for Oconee County.

Rebecca Webb chipped in 21 digs and Annie Howell had seven kills and five blocks for the Warriors.

Oconee County (41-8), which extended its win streak to 27, will face No. 1 Blessed Trinity on Wednesday.

"I have such high respect for Buford," Oconee County head coach Steffi Legall said. "They are well-coached and we knew were we going to be in a dog fight and that's what we got. When it gets down to 15-13 at the end, you have to have some luck and maybe we got some of that. We did get the ball where we wanted it at the end with Maya (Murphy) and executed. But what a great match."