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Norcross' Bella Murray

NORCROSS — As much as volleyball is a game of momentum, Tuesday’s second-round Class AAAAAAA state tournament match between Norcross and Marietta pushed that aspect to the extreme.

After roaring out of the gate to take the first two games, Norcorss endured a Marietta onslaught that put the visitors on the verge of forcing a fifth and deciding game.

But the hosts withstood that rally and finally closed out a 25-20, 25-13, 23-25, 25-23 victory in a battle of the Blue Devils at the House of Blue.

Setter Bella Murray had a huge all-around match, finishing with 10 kills and handing out 38 set assists.

The junior also combined with senior Janna Schlageter (16 kills, 12 digs) and sophomore Claire Catterton (15 kills) to come up with big plays at the right times down the stretch to help Norcross (39-7) advanced to the state quarterfinal round, where the Blue Devils will host Lassiter on Saturday.

“We’re built for this,” Norcross coach Jeff Cerneka said. “We had a (tough regular season) schedule. We played some really good teams this year, and every set hasn’t gone as planned. We’ve been behind a lot. It’s usually not that interesting, but this team is resilient. We always come back. We haven’t quit.

“Our record speaks for itself. You look at the teams we’ve played, we’ve been grinding out the whole season. It’s characteristic of our whole team.”

After trailing 10-9 during the back-and-forth early points of the opening game, it didin’t look like Norcross would need to be resilient.

A Marietta serve into the next tied the game, and Ressa Schroeder followed with an ace to vault Norcross into the lead for the first time at 11-10.

It also ignited an 8-1 run, keyed by another service winner by Schroeder and a tip over the next by Murray, which gave the host Blue Devils breathing room at 18-11 lead, and eventually became a 25-20 win in Game 1.

That momentum carried over in the Game 2, with Murray setting up Zia Smith for a tip, and the duo combining for a double block to get Norcross off to a quick start.

Smith added another kills and Murray added two taps over the net to give the Blue Devils a quick 8-1 lead, and they never looked back in taking a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-13 win.

But Marietta never trailed in Game 3 and held off a late Norcross rally to take Game 3 by a 25-23 score behind two kills and three aces from Morgan Darby and three kills and a block assist from Kendall Gazaway, and the visiting Blue Devils (12-24) rode that momentum to jump out to an 8-1 lead in Game 4.

They held off one rally saw Norcross tie the game twice — once at 13-13 and again at 14-14 — and respond with strong work defense, led by a kill by Schuyler Parker and consecutive blocks by Grace Thompson and Madison Weaver to apparently take control again with an 18-14 lead.

But following a timeout, the host Blue Devils rallied again, though they had a hard time getting over hump after tying the game four different times, the last time at 23-all after a Marietta serve into the net.

Each of the three previous ties, Marietta had regained the lead, which could’ve proved frustrating, though Norcross refused to let it.

“We’ve always been a tough fighting team, especially when we’re down,” said Murray, who set up Catterton for a pair of kills and Schlageter for two more to help lead Norcross back from the 18-14 deficit. “We’ve always come back and fought our hardest as a team, no matter what. … We have so much chemistry on this team and so much heart, but we played for each other. If we keep playing hard for each other and keep (building) that same momentum and that same mindset, then we can succeed.”

Norcross got a break with a Marietta serve into the net on the point that tied the score at 23-all, and then took its first lead of the game at 24-23 when Serenity Owens muscled an attack through a double block attempt at the net.

With a match-point opportunity, Norcross turned the tables, with Smith and Owens combining to stuff a Marietta attack at the net and send it back for the point that closed out the 25-23 win, and the match.

Smith also had a solid match with nine kills and four total blocks, while Norcross also got 11 digs on defense from Isabella Casagrande.

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.