Things were not looking good for Forsyth Central head volleyball coach Brian Welsch on the court. He had not won a single region game in four seasons since taking the job in the spring of 2016 from Brookwood.
Finally, the Bulldogs won a region game Oct. 6 against Denmark, but they wanted more.
Off what Welsch called a “lapse of judgement,” he accidentally printed the word ‘state’ on the back of the Central practice shirts, despite already establishing in the coaches’ room that this team would focus more on taking things day by day, rather than setting an omnipresent goal.
“It’s been an uphill battle since I got here,” Welsch said. “When I came here from Gwinnett, I stepped into the region and I had my work set out for me. I would say the biggest way to tie it all together was that we had to not change a culture, but establish a culture. It’s been every bit of five years of hard work. I would say in previous years it’s been a big deal to learn how to win.”
Instead of lofty goals, Welsch spent his previous years printing the word ‘process’ on the practice shirts, to give his team confidence in knowing that things change every day.
However, after a non-region loss to North Gwinnett, Welsch said his team decided to change the narrative of how their 2020 season was going.
“We didn’t win the match, but just went back to the concept of, ‘If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it,” Welsch said. “We got to a point where it hadn’t been fun because we were putting so much pressure on ourselves. It was a different atmosphere. It was very low pressure, even though it was late in the season. We came back and had a different mentality.”
Things began to change for the Bulldogs, who went on to a Cinderella story of their own in the Region 6-7A tournament. After going 2-4 throughout the regular season region schedule, the Bulldogs upset South Forsyth to qualify for the state tournament, then beat West Forsyth in the third-place match, playing three straight five-set matches.
The team would use that momentum to go on and win a state tournament game before getting eliminated against Roswell in the Sweet 16.
“We had an amazing run in our region tournament and won a state playoff game,” Welsch said. “It was an amazing week. This region is tough. There are a lot of really good volleyball players and coaches in this region. In the last couple of years, we had to learn how to win. We went from being happy of winning, to challenging ourselves to win at a higher level.”
Headed into the 2021 season, Welsch said nobody needs to put the Cinderella tag on the Bulldogs moving forward.
“I think one of the biggest things we came away with is that our kids got a taste, but they are not satisfied,” Welsch said. “They’re as eager and hungry as anyone I’ve coached. Intrinsically, those kids are driven to just compete. We talked about finding balance between thriving off winning and hating losing. The moment it was over, we said, ‘How do we set our targets higher?’”
The Bulldogs return four seniors in Emma Kiser, Sarah Pipping, Megan McCarthy and Riese Johnson.
Kiser was a first-team all-region selection last season at setter. Welsch said those four girls have worked hard in the gym and are ready to compete at a higher level this season.
“Volleyball is not an easy sport,” Welsch said. “They are making tough things look easy, which to me, would assume that it’s becoming very cerebral. They get it and they understand. They don’t have to think too hard. People are understanding their roles and their responsibilities. Instead of frantic chaos, it just looks easy and controlled.”
The Bulldogs will open the season Aug. 12 with a tri-match against North Gwinnett and Mount Pisgah beginning at 5 p.m.