October 30, 2013 10:06:25 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
LAKE CORMORANT -- New Hope High School volleyball coach Laura Lee Holman's worst fears were realized rather quickly Tuesday night.
Sophomore Madison Thrasher may have summed it up best.
"We knew No. 22 (Lake Cormorant's Brianna Smith) was really good," Thrasher said. "However, when she hit the first ball back over the net it was like, 'Wow.' We knew then we might have some problems."
Defending state champion Lake Cormorant defeated New Hope 3-0 (25-11, 25-12, 25-15) to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class II North State championship Tuesday night.
Lake Cormorant (25-11) will face East Central at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi College in Clinton for the state championship.
For New Hope, the season ends at 14-5. The Lady Trojans were playing less than 72 hours after recording the program's first playoff win. The magic couldn't be duplicated on the bigger stage.
"I think the bright lights really got to us tonight," Holman said. "When you get to this point, everything goes up a little bit. If you saw us play Saturday night, you would not have recognized us today. Losing to a team like this is one thing. It is difficult when it happens and you don't play your best."
Lake Cormorant controlled the match at the service line. The second set included an eight-point run by junior Tanner Smith and a nine-point run by senior Brianna Smith. The third set included a six-point run by each player.
"Our Achilles' heel has been serve-receive all year," Holman said. "It is one of those experience things. Our kids have not received a lot. It is difficult when you face a well-coached team like this. They can aim at spots. You make adjustments and they can hit it the other way. We never really could get into our attack because we could never receive well enough to get a pass to our setter. Because of that, our setter had a tough time setting up our hitters. We couldn't get the attacks going, and that meant we couldn't get any momentum going. You have to have momentum in this sport."
New Hope competed but failed to register a major threat against an opponent that has played two less than twice the number of matches this season.
"There are a lot of positives you can take away from even this match," New Hope sophomore Darian Bradley said. "We saw what a state champion looks like. We saw the things we need to work on to become a better team. They had speed and power. They really were aggressive and established the lead and we had a hard time keeping up. The important thing is we learn from this so we can be in this position the next time and do even better."
In its second year playing volleyball, New Hope won its first region championship and made its first playoff appearance. The postseason was highlighted by a 3-2 home victory against Lewisburg on Saturday before a rowdy crowd at New Hope.
"Being a second-year program, we did a lot of good things," Thrasher said. "We are disappointed we lost, but Saturday was fun. It was great playing in front of all our friends and family and winning a playoff match like that. That is something we will always remember. We just have to keep working hard and practice at doing better at everything. We got to keep the program going strong like this, and we got to make sure everybody on the team knows we want to keep going forward."
On Tuesday, the packed house belonged to Lake Cormorant and it got loud quickly. New Hope trailed 5-4 in the first set before Lake Cormorant reeled off six-straight points. Back-to-back kills by Leigh Atkins quieted the crowd and had New Hope back within 14-10. Back-to-back aces by senior Jasmine Starks helped turn the tide for the hosts.
A couple of ballhandling errors extended the run and New Hope fell behind 21-10. With the momentum now engulfing the gym, the Lay Gators closed the first set and never trailed after scoring the first seven points of the second set.
"We were never able to compete tonight," Holman said. "This is part of the experience. The season has been great. It has grown a lot of interest. For a young program, that is really important. Saturday night was great,and we have to remember that and use that going forward."
Mercedes Mattix, Silvia Sartori, Allison Newton, Alaina Nickoles and Ashley Martian were the lone seniors on the squad.
After recording 37 kills against Lewisburg, Sartori had six kills and seven blocks. Mattix added four blocks, while Nickoles had three.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter