On the days when the Northside volleyball team began practice at 5:30 a.m., head coach Lindsay Johnson encouraged her players to keep going with a simple line of motivation.
“It’s going to pay off,” Johnson told the team members as they were likely still shaking off last night’s sleep.
Northside had a chance Thursday to do what no local team has done, and of course, making history proved anything but easy.
Northside broke Columbus’ 13-year reign as the area’s volleyball titan, defeating the Lady Blue Devils to win the Area 1-4A tournament title. The match offered no room for error for either side, as it went five sets before the Lady Patriots were victorious.
Columbus looked destined to notch another triumph over Northside thanks to a 25-19 win in the first set and a 23-18 lead in the second. The Lady Blue Devils were within one point of winning the set at 24-20, but Northside answered with six straight points to take the set.
The back-and-forth nature of the contest didn’t end there, either.
Northside claimed the third set 25-23, but Columbus came right back in the fourth, again taking a set 25-19. In a fifth set, the leader when the teams reached 25 total points is declared the winner. This time, Northside grabbed the title with a 15-10 advantage.
Northside’s Nevaeh Edwards took home Area Co-Player of the Year and showed why Thursday, notching 25 kill and 13 digs. Caroline Irving had 43 assists, Berkleigh Davidson posted 35 digs and Sarah Baucham provided nine kills. Baucham and Davidson were each named to the All-Area First Team.
For a team that had been on the cusp of beating Columbus, the match’s end was finally a chance to let go.
“I’ve never seen a group of high school kids cry that much out of pure joy. My kids balled their eyes out,” Johnson said. “It was relief that we had finally overcame that. Since volleyball started in Columbus, nobody has ever beat them in our area.”
Johnson was candid in talking about getting over the hump. Now in her ninth year as a volleyball coach, Johnson rattled off that she’d suffered 27 straight losses to Columbus over her coaching tenures at Shaw and Northside.
Johnson pointed to Northside’s two-set loss to Columbus on Sept. 19 as a major catalyst in Thursday’s victory. The harrowing defeat forced Johnson and her coaches to do a deep dive into the film, which allowed them to spot weaknesses and reconfigure the lineup.
Had Northside edged out Columbus that night, Johnson figures Thursday would have never happened.
“When we lost to them, I definitely thought it was for a reason,” Johnson said. “I think us losing a couple of weeks ago definitely set us up to win. I kept telling our kids that that match wasn’t the one that mattered; the one in the area tournament is the one that matters.”
Johnson said her last few teams were strong enough to dethrone Columbus as the area’s team to beat. It took a five-set marathon for the 2017 Northside squad to claim that honor, but with it comes the chance to host the first round of the state tournament Thursday.
Though the Northside Lady Patriots and their head coach are likely zapped after the rollercoaster of a match, they would certainly say it has finally all paid off.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports
Four Area 1-4A teams have advanced to the Class 4A state tournament. Northside is the No. 1 seed, Columbus No. 2, Hardaway No. 3 and Shaw No. 4.