Hillcrest relied more on its rich tradition than experience Thursday to eliminate Northwestern, 3-1, in the second round of the state playoffs at Northwestern.
The two-time defending Class AAAA state champion Rams bounced back from a first-set loss to sweep the remaining three games.
Having lost the opening game 25-19, Hillcrest regained momentum in the second contest to outlast the Trojans, 25-22. Northwestern was unable to bounce back in the final two games, falling 25-17 and 25-18.
"We graduated all of our starters from last year, so just about everyone in our lineup is new," Hillcrest coach Lynn Avant said. "But I guess the fact that we have been there and have been around, and I guess that counts for something.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Being a young squad, we have been making our share of errors, which cost us in the early contest tonight. But luckily for us, we started to play better."
Northwestern, the Region 3-AAAA champs, fed off of an enthusiastic home crowd.
"We were very aggressive and had plenty of enthusiasm," Northwestern coach Cesar Robles said.
However, the second match was a back-and-forth affair with the lead changing hands several times before the Rams went on top for good down the stretch.
"That is when we were not as aggressive and began to start making many unforced serving errors," Robles said. "You just cannot afford to make errors against a quality team like this."
The Ram continued their dominance in the third contest with a 15-6 lead.
Northwestern, however, did stage a rally to eventually close the deficit to five, 20-15, when junior Alex Angel spiked a return volley down the right sideline.
Angel spiked home another point to cut the Northwestern deficit to 22-17, but that was as close as the Trojans could get as Hillcrest closed out with the final three points.
Northwestern seniors Courtney Robinson and Heather Whiteside executed two successful blocks for points, and junior Emily Marks served another point for an 8-4 lead in the third contest.
Hillcrest used the net presence of junior Courtney Garrett, whose three dink returns for point, sparked an 8-3 run, giving the Rams a 12-11 edge.
Garrett continued to successfully block the net, accounting for three more points as Hillcrest went on a run to build an 18-11 advantage.
Trailing 22-14, Northwestern attempted to rally by closing the deficit to four, 22-18. However, the Rams sealed the deal with the final three points and advanced to the Class AAAA Upper State semifinal round on Tuesday against Rock Hill.
Despite the loss, Robles considered the Northwestern season to have been a success, thanks to the leadership of six seniors, who include Robinson, Kathryn Ernandez, Katie Kirby, Ashley Young, Whiteside, and Hannah Crump.