The Carrollton High School volleyball team is doing something that has never been accomplished before in school history.
The Lady Trojans will be the first volleyball team to host an elite eight game when they welcome Whitewater to Criswell Court on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the third round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Carrollton head coach Kasey Austin has often vocalized that this season is dedicated to her two seniors, Macie Monsour and Kelsie Thomas. The duo didn't shy away from expressing how momentous being able to host an elite eight match is and what it means to them.
"It means everything," Monsour said. "Just to be able to build these younger players up, and to be able to host the first ever elite eight game here at Carrollton means a lot."
"It shows a lot about how much determination we have to win," added Thomas. "Hopefully, playing at home just brings out the best of us."
Criswell Court has been kind to the Lady Trojans through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Entering as the No. 1 seed, Carrollton hosted No. 4 North Springs last Saturday in the opening round. Despite back-and-forth bouts through the first two sets, the Lady Trojans cruised to a sweep of the Lady Spartans in the best-of-five tilt to land a spot in the round of 16.
Carrollton then hosted No. 2 Loganville on Tuesday. The Lady Trojans pounced on the Lady Red Devils early, winning a pair of close sets to take a commanding 2-0 lead. However, after dropping the next two sets, they were faced with a winner-takes-all fifth set.
The Lady Trojans stood up to the challenge, edging the Lady Red Devils by two points to send the home crowd into a frenzy and punch their ticket to the elite eight.
"It helped a lot that our fans were here to cheer us on. That brought us together as a team," Monsour said. "And to win those last two points to move ahead into the elite eight has really carried us all throughout practice this week."
Saturday's opponent, second-seeded Whitewater, has yet to lose a match this postseason. The Wildcats made easy work of first-round opponent No. 3 Ware County before sweeping No. 1 Union Grove to advance to the elite eight.
Saturday will be the second time this season Carrollton has seen Whitewater. The two teams played against each other on Sept. 29 in the 2018 Elite Eight PlayDate at McIntosh High School, with the Lady Wildcats sweeping the best-of-three series.
"We lost two sets, but we were able to get a look at them, so we kind of know what we're going up against," Austin said. "They have a really strong offense, but we have a really strong defense. So I feel good about how we'll match up."
One key difference this time around will be the presence of Monsour, who was sidelined for Carrollton's first match against Whitewater with a sprained ankle.
But the Lady Trojans still aren't at full strength.
Junior Allie Dishman, who served as both a middle hitter and outside hitter for Carrollton, recently suffered a knee injury. On Monday, less than 24 hours before the Lady Trojans' second-round match, Dishman was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
"Luckily, our team is so versatile that they're able to play in many different positions. I think that obviously helped us be able to win the match against Loganville," Austin said. "We were kind of able to plug in those players where we needed to and make other adjustments."
Among the changes to Carrollton's lineup against Loganville was shifting Monsour to outside hitter to fill in for Dishman. It's a move Austin believed paid off for her team, and one she plans to stick with for Saturday's third-round match.
The Lady Trojans will have to win on Saturday in order to extend the high school careers of Monsour and Thomas. When asked how it feels to make a deep playoff run in their final year of high school, they each expressed their desire to play for as long as they can.
"Being a senior, you really want to go as far as you can with it until the very end," Thomas said.
Monsour paused, smiled and added a bold declaration — "We're going for that ring."