GAC rolls into Class AA Final Four

NORCROSS -- With the loss of eight seniors from a year ago, few would have predicted a return to the state championship match for the Greater Atlanta Christian volleyball team.

But the Spartans, who never stopped believing in themselves, are just one more victory away from doing just that.

"They've said all year that they are playing for a surprise ending," coach Kristy Shelton said of her players. "Now that they're in the Final Four, anything can happen."

GAC (29-9) will meet Westminster (27-11) on Wednesday in the Class AA semifinals after rolling past Westside with a 25-6, 25-12, 25-16 sweep on Saturday at the Long Forum.

Westminster, the Area 4-AA champ, drew a quarterfinal bye as the No. 2 seed behind No. 1 Wesleyan, but No. 3 GAC nearly had one itself as it coasted by the visiting team from Augusta in a match that barely took an hour. The Spartans had 11 aces and 29 kills against the Patriots (15-12).

Westminster defeated GAC in two close sets during the regular season, but that match was in late August when the new-look Spartans were just starting to jell.

Counting the graduates, GAC lost 15 players from the program and had to go with just eight players most of this season.

But Jennie McCarty and Emma Taylor -- the team's only seniors -- have brought steady leadership and the Spartans have received a boost from freshmen Emily Becker and Lauren Brown.

"It's a very united team," Shelton said. "They're pure of heart and that makes them care about each other and love each other.

"You don't have that girl drama on this team, which is what has made this season so much fun."

McCarty, the setter, had 23 assists against Westside and Taylor, an outside hitter, contributed seven kills and six digs.

Juniors Tayler McPherson and Madison Kerr combined for 13 kills, with McPherson getting nine, and libero Becker had six aces and seven digs. Brown added three kills, two blocks and an ace.

Becker, whose older sister played for GAC, had a record 42 digs in a match against Walker earlier this season and is pushing the school record for a season.

"She's been a really pleasant surprise," Shelton said.

GAC lost to No. 1-ranked Wesleyan for the Area 6-AA title, but hasn't dropped a set in its three state tournament victories.

Westside was only competitive in the third set, pulling within 17-15. But GAC scored the next six points and soon after closed out the match.

For the first time, there are both Class AA and Class A volleyball tournaments, watering down the fields a little.

Last season, GAC took Eagle's Landing Christian to five tight sets before losing in the Class AA-A title match and falling just short of its first state title.

"That was supposed to be our shot," Shelton said.

Now the Spartans are back in the Final Four.

"These girls have never stopped believing," their coach said.