If Thursday was the final home volleyball match of the season for the Heritage Lady Generals, they made sure it was a memorable one.
Heritage, unranked, but the No. 2 seed from Region 6, played inspired ball on both the offensive and defensive end and advanced to the Round of 16 in Class AAAA with a 25-21, 25-20, 20-25, 25-17 victory over a Jefferson squad that came in ranked No. 10 by Score Atlanta.
With the victory, the Lady Generals will head to Cartersville on Tuesday to take on the Lady Canes, the Region 5 champions with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight.
"Two years ago, we made it to the Elite Eight, but we fell a little short in the first round last year," Heritage head coach Kari Cooper said. "So the goal is to get back (to the Elite Eight). We were really focused on getting back and making it past the first round this year."
Heritage (30-13) showed its depth against the Lady Dragons, rotating its regular starting six and several reserves throughout the lineup to maintain fresh legs in the best-of-five match.
"All season long, we've been kind of working with our lineup," Cooper explained. "I think we finally got something that works. We have a lot of players that contribute. Plus, we've also pulled up some JV players and that's really helped."
The opening set was a tight one before the Lady Generals went on a 6-1 run to grab a 19-13 advantage. Coming out of a timeout, Jefferson reeled off four straight points - two coming on Heritage errors - and they would eventually tie things up at 20 apiece.
But the Lady Dragons wouldn't be able to take the lead. Kali Brown came through with a clutch kill and a Jefferson hitting error gave Heritage another point. Heritage would push it to set point after winning a long rally and another hitting error gave the Navy-and-Red the win.
In the second set, Heritage pulled ahead 13-8 on a block by Morgan Trotter and extended their advantage to 18-12. But Jefferson would score eight of the next 11 points to chop Heritage's lead down to 21-20.
However, a kill by Ariana Camp and a block by Macie Stephens would give Heritage set point and the Lady Dragons couldn't handle a serve by Annie Britton as the Lady Generals took a 2-0 lead in the match, spurred on by the Heritage softball team, who led the cheers from the stands.
But Jefferson wasn't ready to wave the white flag just yet. They opened up a 14-10 lead just past the midway point of the third set and extended it to 21-13. Heritage would rally and chopped the gap all the way down to 23-20, but the Lady Dragons would get the final two points to send the match to a fourth set.
The fourth set, however, would see Heritage take control and keep it. Another ace by Britton and a kill by Stephens pushed the lead to 22-17 and an ace by Harris put Heritage two points from absolute victory. Coming out of a timeout, Brown stuffed a Jefferson kill to bring it to match point before a final ace by Harris closed it out.
"We practiced the last couple of days on things that we expected to happen in this match," Cooper explained. "We knew how to make the adjustments and the girls knew what to do."
Harris picked up 11 kills, eight digs and three aces on the evening, while Brown had seven kills, 18 digs and two aces. Camp collected nine kills to go with three blocks and Ashley Clinton recorded 31 assists to go with three aces and four blocks. Stephens had six kills and three blocks, while Britton served up four aces.
Cooper added that she was thankful to get a good test so early in the post-season.
"We want to be tested," she added. "We've had more losses on the season this year, but that's because I've intentionally tried to test our team. Playing these tougher teams helps us know exactly what we need to work on to get better."
A start time for Tuesday's second-round match was not yet known as of press time.