NEW HOPE — On Wednesday, New Hope setter Annie Woolbright found out that she had gotten strep throat, which kept her out of practice as the Trojans prepared for Thursday night’s MHSAA 5A quarterfinal match against Lafayette.
Coming into Thursday, Woolbright was a game-time decision, but she made herself available and ready for the match, and what a boost that became for New Hope.
Woolbright had one of her best performances in a Trojans uniform, highlighted most on set point in the second set, where she saved the point twice as New Hope won the point and set, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the match.
Despite a bit of a lapse in the third set, the Trojans bounced back in the fourth, securing their spot in the MHSAA Class 5A semifinals with a four-set win over Lafayette.
Set scores were 25-21, 25-21, 13-25 and 25-17.
“When I found out I had strep yesterday, I was very upset,” Woolbright said. “I told Coach that no matter what, I was going to come out for my team and play with them because we’re a team, we’re a family, and I owe that to them.”
Having Woolbright on Thursday was key for the Trojans, who had their offense working early and often.
Led by Madyson McBrayer and Megan Neeb, New Hope wasn’t just trying to obliterate the ball when riding above the net, but trying to methodically defeat the Commodores.
New Hope gets a lot of emphatic kills, but against a great opponent, the Trojans started trying to find gaps in Lefayette’s rotation, trying to find empty spaces on the floor to perfectly land shots … and it worked to perfection.
“If we don’t stay up, we’re going to get down and get beat,” McBrayer said. “Our offense is what sets the tone for the rest of the game. How we act and how we play will set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The Trojans certainly did just that despite Lafayette, thanks to the play of outside hitter Harmony Jackson, doing all it could to stay in the game.
Jackson’s vertical is absolutely insane, giving her incredible angles to hit the ball at, which worked early on, but New Hope adjusted and began to dig those balls out and keep points alive.
Despite winning that first set, it definitely felt and looked like the Trojans were trying to feel things out on how the match was going to go, but while doing so, they were executing and continued to execute as they’ve done all season.
“We knew that both of us were talented schools and teams, but it’s not just about talent,” New Hope head coach Allison Woolbright said. “It’s about playing smart, keeping your calm and executing and I thought we did a great job of that tonight.”
Something to look at as the Trojans head into the semifinals on Monday night, hosting Lake Cormorant at home, is how they played in the third set, Lafayette’s lone set victory of the match.
It was a mental lapse of a set for New Hope, one where the team didn’t look together and plays weren’t made.
However, unlike earlier matches in the season, most notably Oxford, the Trojans didn’t let that temporary lapse affect them for the rest of the match. They came back out and dominated in the fourth to win the set and the match.
“In that pre-set huddle before the fourth, I told them that (Lafayette) had morale from that win, but we’re a set ahead,” Coach Woolbright said. “‘All we need to do is be the first one to 25, so let’s just focus up,’ and they did. They want it.”
New Hope’s playoff journey continues as their aspirations turn toward a potential trip to Starkville to play for the state championship with a win Monday.
For now, all attention has been turned to Lake Cormorant as the countdown to the state semifinals has already begun.
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