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Lions' record run ends in Final Four

CUMMING -- Already down a game in its Final Four match against Walker, Hebron made a bit of a comeback.

After falling behind early in the second game, the Lions rallied for four straight points led by two nice putaways by Bridgette Oduro and briefly took an 11-10 lead. But a sideout by Walker and then eight straight points ended the rally and Hebron's chances to continue its record-making run in the state Class A volleyball tournament. The Lions lost the game and eventually the match to Walker, falling in three sets 25-15, 25-14, 25-16.

"I thought our inexperience of our sophomores and freshmen caught up with us tonight," said Hebron head coach Judy Conner. "We hadn't really experienced a lot of tough games."

And Walker certainly played tough.

Led by sisters Paige and Brooke Warner, Walker controlled play at the net and followed that up with a service game, Hebron struggled to manage. By the end of the second game, the usually tough Lions defense had allowed 13 aces, a number usually reserved for multiple-match totals.

"Normally our defense is our strength," Conner said.

Just look at the eight-point run. Walker had three aces in the stretch and the elder Paige Warner added four kills. The final point was a duel block by both of the towering Warners.

"They were extremely tough for us on the blocking," Conner said.

The defensive struggles upset much of the Lions' typical attack, frustrating its offense. Not until they trailed 19-10 in Game 1 did Hebron string together even two consecutive points.

"It made it hard to get into any kind of rhythm," Conner said.

Even while getting much of Walker's attention, junior Eden Murray did lead the team with nine kills and a block and Oduro added seven kills.

"Bridgette (Oduro) did a very good job out there for us tonight," Conner said of the junior.

Anna Katherine Wilson, a sophomore, had 18 assists.

But for the Lions, who only have one senior, Larson Reed, on their roster and returned just three players from last year's team, the run to the state's Final Four was the first for the Dacula school. They overcame George Walton, a team which bested them many times earlier in the season, and gained experience for a group all poised to return next season. And in that, Conner found solace in the season's end.

"As hard as it is, this is the first time this team has been this far," she said. "They are a team that wants to learn, that wants to get better.

"This will be something they can look back on and say, 'We did this, but we don't want to experience this again next year. We want to be on the other side next year."