COLUMBUS — When the final point fell, it was quite a welcome sight for Jefferson volleyball coach Brittani Lawrence.
Abbey Howard produced a block point on match point, ending a four-set quarterfinals pairing with Columbus Wednesday and sending Jefferson (30-7) to the Final Four for the first time in seven years.
“I think I might have cried a little bit … I’m still speechless,” Lawrence said.
It had been a rollercoaster of events for the Dragons on the road.
Jefferson’s victory over Columbus was almost two different matches. Jefferson rolled to 25-14, 25-9 wins in the first two sets and looked primed for a sweep. But the Dragons lost 25-21 in the third set before outlasting the Blue Devils 25-21 in the fourth set to end an intense night of volleyball against the Region 2-AAAA No. 1 seed.
“Very intense,” said Jefferson middle hitter/blocker Olivia Burrage of the match. “I was on the edge of the seat the whole time.”
After dropping the third set, Jefferson was tied 17-17 with Columbus in the fourth set before the Dragons went on a 5-0 run that helped deliver the win.
“It means a lot to regroup and finish the set like that,” Burrage said. “I just think we did a really good job and that we had a lot of resilience in order to do that.”
Sophia Stopher pushed the fourth set to match point when she served up an ace to give the Dragons a 24-21 lead. Howard ended the match with her block point, punching the Dragons' ticket to the Final Four.
Jefferson will face Northwest Whitfield at home Saturday (Oct. 31) at 11 a.m. in the Class AAAA semifinals.
The Dragons were very much the dominant team early on, building double-digit leads in the first two sets. Jefferson scored the final nine points in the second set in the most lopsided frame of the night.
But Lawrence said she figured the third set would unfold much differently with Columbus facing an elimination set.
She was right.
Jefferson trailed by as many as six points (17-11) before rallying to take a one-point lead (19-18). But Columbus answered with the next five points and later ended the set with a kill into the back row.
"They did a phenomenal job of pin-pointing our weaknesses," Lawrence said. "They got inside of our heads a little bit during that third match."
The final set, which included eight ties and four lead changes, was nearly as tough. But Jefferson took the lead for good at 18-17 when Howard picked up a kill. The Dragons then followed with the next four points, which included a kill from Dallas Morse into the back corner and two more kills from Howard, pushing the lead to 22-17.
"In that fourth set, we just did a great job of just having the ability to re-rotate our system, to find their tendencies, realize where we need to be, feed the ball and simply pass it straight up in the air," Lawrence said.
Columbus rallied to within a point, 22-21, but Howard ended the run when she slapped the ball into an open spot on the Blue Devils' side of the court for another kill.
Stopher's ace and Howard's block point closed out the match.
And now the Dragons' pursuit of a state title continues. Lawrence has said this team has the ability to make program history — or as she's put it, go to "infinity and beyond."
"And that's what we're doing," Lawrence said. "We're not done yet."