Losing in the Region 6-7A semifinals on its home court certainly stung, but Denmark definitely didn't want to enter the Class 7A state playoffs off back-to-back losses, especially since doing so would relegate the Danes to the No. 4 seed and force a meeting with a region champion.
So given the chance at redemption 24 hours later, Denmark fended off an improving Forsyth Central to win the tournament's third-place match by scores of 25-16, 25-23, 25-22.
“Yesterday was a tough loss, but we just had to have a mindset change and come into today with a positive attitude,” Danes co-head coach Rena Garner said afterwards. “We can’t do anything about yesterday but can only learn from our mistakes and fix them today.”
Asked about the new mindset, Garner simply stated, “There mindset was that we weren’t going to lose again.”
It certainly looked in the opening set as though No. 7 Denmark (29-13) wouldn't have much trouble bouncing back.
Dominae Jordan went on a key individual 3-0 run to put the Danes up 18-13 and force a Bulldogs timeout. Meanwhile, Courtney Graham dominated in the middle during the first set — notching a handful of kills, including one to end it.
“One thing in our region is that we need to play above our average,” Forsyth Central head coach Brian Welsch said. “Tonight, I think our blocking was a little subpar. Offense is not necessarily our No. 1 M.O. If your blocking and your defense isn't thriving, and you can’t use offense to survive, it’s not going to go your way.”
To the Bulldogs' credit, they improved significantly in the following two sets and seemed a bit unlucky to not win at least one of them.
Forsyth Central (10-22) nearly battled back from a 9-2 deficit to steal the second set. Emma McKinney produced some important kills to fuel the comeback bid.
With the second-seeded Danes clinging to a 24-23 advantage, Graham emphatically wrapped up the set with another kill.
The third set started out the most even of the three sets, with the No. 5 seed Bulldogs eventually grabbing a 20-19 lead. However, the hosts used a 4-0 spurt — capped by a Taryn Myers ace — to jump back in control.
McKinney ended the run, but kills by Jordan and Macy Funk completed the sweep.
Jordan finished with 15 kills and 14 digs; Graham managed 10 kills and three aces; and Funk chipped in nine kills. Emerson Aber compiled 34 assists, eight digs and two aces.
“It’s great to know that even at less than your best, you can still compete, even with as strong of a region as we play in,” Welsch said following his team's third match in as many days. “It’s been a long week; it’s been exhausting. I think we were emotionally spent after earning our bid on Tuesday.”
The reward for Denmark and Forsyth Central are two of the toughest first-round draws in 7A, with the the Danes heading to No. 4 Cherokee and Bulldogs traveling to fifth-ranked Walton.
At the time of their interviews, the coaches didn't know which team they would face, as the Warriors and Raiders met later that night in the Region 5-7A finals.
“Both of those teams are really good, and they have some solid hitters on both of them,” Garner said. “We have to work on our blocks and our back row, and getting the balls to our setters.”
For Welsch, being able to qualify for the state playoffs is a huge step in the right direction for a young group. While the chances of knocking off juggernaut Walton seem slim, that also means that Forsyth Central shouldn't have any pressure, and that's when the Bulldogs thrive.
“I know our matchup is going to be tough regardless of who we crossover with,” Welsch said. “But we’re really just going to take Monday to focus on ourselves and figure out how to do what we do the best way that we know how.”