Freshman Grace Agolli goes for a kill against Forsyth Central High School on Aug. 25. Photo: Fred Assaf

The Knights Head to the Final Four of the State Playoffs on Oct. 31. They Face Off Against Union County in the Inman Center.

After three consecutive state championships and the loss of four elite players to graduation, the varsity volleyball team had big shoes to fill this season. Ada Jane Agolli ‘20 now plays for Brown, Sasha Ratliff ‘20 for Ole Miss and Dominique Turner ‘20 for Marshall. Lucy Ferry ‘20 was a key contributor as well, although she opted not to play volleyball in college.

To fill their shoes, the team has looked to seven new freshmen: Grace Agolli, Gadit Bejar, Adrienne Durr, Dhru Lalaji, Ellie Siskin, Caitlyn Rocker and Isabelle Wilhelm. In addition, sophomores Brooke Brumfield and Breia Craft have stepped onto the court as varsity players for the first time. “I know that we are a young team and will do our very best,” said Siskin, early in the season.

With the eyes of the whole school on them, the team feels immense pressure to continue their state championship winning streak. “Now that Westminster is no longer in our region, I think we definitely have a chance at the state title,” said Knowlton. “But then again, this year is more like a fresh start, and I know the freshmen will take the team really far in the future.”

The team persevered through early losses to pull out a 2-1 region victory over rival Lovett School on Sept. 22. On Oct. 17, Pace defeated Lovett for a second time, earning them the Area Championship.

Pace swept Banks County 3-0 in the best of five series in the first round of the state playoffs on Oct. 21. The Knights defeated the Leopards 25-5, 25-12 and 25-7 in the Inman Center.

Next, the team played Dade County at home on Oct. 24 in the Sweet Sixteen, handily defeating the Wolverines 25-9, 25-9 and 25-8.

With the 3-0 victory, the team secured a spot in the Elite Eight of the state playoffs. The Knights crushed Vidalia High School 3-0 in the Inman Center on Oct. 28. Match scores were 25-3, 25-9, 25-4. The team’s record is now 20-7.

Given the team’s championship-calibre skill level, freshmen starters have been few and far between. In the past three years, only a handful of players started on the team as freshmen. This year, however, “the talent in the freshmen class is insanely high,” said junior team member Taylor Knowlton. “Being a freshman has its challenges, but it’s also very rewarding to compete with the upperclassmen,” said Durr.

With freshmen and sophomores now comprising over half the team’s roster of 15, the team dynamic has shifted as the two sole seniors and a junior stepped into leadership roles. This year, seniors Hannah Pace and Elliot Mathis, along with junior Megan Hardesty, are leading the team as captains. “As the oldest on the team, Elliot and I have taken leadership by including everyone at all times, making sure there is no beef between anyone and always setting a good example on and off the court,” said Pace.

Despite the age gap and awkwardness of new friendships, the team has quickly transformed into a family. “As much as I love volleyball, my favorite part of the team is making new friends, especially with the upperclassmen,” said Lalaji. All the players enjoy warming up together before games and taking game-day selfies in the locker room.

Grace Agolli, a rising star, is the younger sister of Pace alumna and volleyball veteran Ada Jane Agolli. “My sister and I have always been very competitive,” said the younger Agolli. “It is hard trying to live up to her legacy and trying to fill her shoes on the court.” Nonetheless, Grace Agolli has already made a name for herself. Prep Volleyball ranked her in the top 150 players in the nation for the Class of 2024.

Top Photo: Junior captain Megan Hardesty goes up for a shot against Banks County in the first round of the state playoffs on Oct. 21.

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