Sarah Pipping never met a set too quick for her.
That's one of the reasons Forsyth Central's senior outside hitter racked up 15 kills Tuesday during a 3-0 win against North Paulding. Oftentimes, Pipping would receive the set from Riese Johnson so quickly that she would beat the defenders to the net. Most other times, she would simply overpower them.
"I've definitely worked on timing and trying to get fast and beat the other team's block," Pipping said. "[Central head coach Brian Welsch] asked me the other day, he said, 'Is any set too fast?' And I said, 'There's no such thing as too fast of a set.'"
Central needed just over an hour to dispose of the Wolfpack, using a 25-19 win in the first set to take control of the match. The Bulldogs then sped past North Paulding 25-10 and 25-11 in the final two sets to earn the sweep.
Central lost to North Paulding 3-2 last season. Four seasons ago, North Paulding beat Central 2-0.
But this year there's plenty of optimism surrounding a Central team that is off to a perfect 3-0 start, with wins against North Gwinnett and Mount Pisgah.
"It feels really good. I've got a senior-laden team and I've got some really good leadership," Welsch said. "These kids come in, they work for it in the weight room, they work for it in practice. There's just so much consistency that I can't even account for. My assistant coach is back. I haven't had a lot of consistency with coaching staff. My JV and JV assistants were back. Bringing back 10 players [and] seven seniors from last year's varsity team. I feel like we've really not just started where we left off, but we've actually taken a step forward."
Central takes the first set 25-19. Sarah Pipping closes it out with her fifth kill of the set. She also had a couple of nice blocks at the net. pic.twitter.com/kHWLHWA8s8— David Roberts (@FCNDavidRoberts) August 17, 2021
Central scored 11 of the final 15 points in the first set, sparked by Johnson's ace.
Johnson finished the match with four aces, while Central managed 16 aces as a team.
"Number one, we are very confident in our serving game," Welsch said. "They had some really, really good players. In fact, watching them warm up before we came out of the locker room, there were some players that they had that I didn't see last year. We thought that they had some firepower, but I told my coach, I said, 'If we can serve them aggressively, and if we can pass well, I think that we're going to be just fine.' We relied heavily on our serving, and our passing was really on tonight."
Pipping had five kills in the first set, including one where she blocked a shot at the net, backed into position, took the set from Johnson and placed a precise shot in the back-left corner to make it 22-19.
"I think a lot of it is coming from a timing standpoint," Welsch said. "Last year, we talked a little bit about timing. Last year, we talked a little bit about speeding up our set to the outside. With some hitters, it flows for them to speed up. Sarah's a lot like me. I'm the most impatient hitter in the world. You can't set me fast enough, and what we're starting to see is that she likes it as fast as you can give it to her. That's going to be one of those balls where it's just a hard matchup from a blocking standpoint."
Both the second and third sets began with Pipping finishing off a Johnson assist with a kill. Central never trailed in either set.
Pipping said she and Johnson aim to set up the attack as quickly as possible.
"We definitely work on it a lot," Pipping said. "Last season, we got into getting really, really fast at our sets. We definitely have a really good relationship as a setter and hitter, and as teammates as well. Having that really helps — having a friendship outside of volleyball."
One of Central's most productive players last year was right-side hitter Malone Davis, who was a senior. This year, Welsch tasked Sarannah Enchill and Ava Elias with replacing that production.
Enchill, who primarily played middle blocker last season, finished with four kills and a three blocks against North Paulding.
"I'll tell you what, Sarannah is just a natural blocker, but one of the things that she's brought to the table is, she's stepped it up from an offensive standpoint. Last year, Ava stepped in and helped us in a COVID situation and set for us a little bit as a freshman. She came in with some club experience this year and a little bit of confidence. She's stepping into a role where she seems to be a natural."
Enchill also had help at the net from Natalie Roberts and Sarah Harding, who each posted a couple of blocks.
Pipping, a four-year player for the Bulldogs, said this season feels different because of the senior leadership and the success of last season, when Central reached the Sweet 16.
"It definitely feels great," Pipping said. "I think coming in from last season and going so far in state, it definitely brought us up a bunch. We have a new expectation of wanting to go far in this season and in state, so I think we have the winning mentality this season, for sure."