When measuring the overall success of a school’s athletic program, it’s easy to focus solely on the success of that school’s team sports.
Viewed through that lens, the results from North Forsyth High School’s 2018-19 athletic year were mixed. In the fall, North’s football team was continually on the receiving end of heartbreaking results and missed the playoffs after making it last year. Volleyball struggled with youth, and in the spring, programs like soccer and lacrosse continued to struggle in region play.
But as athletic director Scott Tilden will rightfully point out, there were also plenty of high points. Girls basketball made the deepest playoff run of any team in the county by making it to the state semifinals for a second straight season. Baseball and softball each made the playoffs, with the latter coming away with a Region 5-7A title. Boys golf secured a spot in the Class 7A state championships, finishing ninth. But while those particular team performances were great, North’s standout accomplishments this year were not undertaken by any team.
“There were a lot of positives with teams, but overall, I think this was a really big year for individuals,” Tilden said.
That theme didn’t really begin until the calendar changed years, though. At the Class 6-7A state swim meet in Atlanta on Feb. 10, Hailey Galbraith earned a state title in the girls 50-yard freestyle, and was the Class 7A runner-up in the 100-yard butterfly.
And North wasn’t done: Just six days later at the state traditional wrestling finals in Macon, the Raiders’ Paul Watkins and Sophia Eglian earned state championships at 145 and 146 pounds, respectively. Eglian made history by becoming the first-ever girls wrestling state champion from Forsyth County.
Region titles: 2
Team state titles: 0
Individual state titles: 3
Director’s Cup finish: 35th in Class 7A (36th in boys, 31st in girls)
Best boys state finish: 9th in golf
Best girls state finish: Semifinals in basketball
Tilden expects those individual successes to continue, and as he looks ahead, he hopes that his teams can join in to add to the accomplishments that the individuals have recently brought to North.
“We have great student athletes, we have great coaches, we have great teachers at this school and we have great support from our admin and our community,” Tilden said. “I think the expectations and standards are there. I see nothing but more success and increased success for the North Forsyth High School programs.”
Editor’s note: Responses and questions have been edited for length and clarity.
FCN: Your girls programs particularly stood out this year. Where do you see those going in the immediate future, and what does it mean to you to have the first Forsyth County girls state champion in wrestling?
Tilden: Does it surprise you that the first female state champion came from North Forsyth? This is a program that has been truly dominant over the last 10 years. I think we just came off of seven straight region championships. This year we didn't win traditionals or duals, but she's come up in that program. She's come up through the feeder system of that program, and she's done a lot of things on her own, too. She has great support from her mom and dad and they take her to a lot of places. But it doesn't surprise me to see that the first (wrestling) female state champion from Forsyth County came from North Forsyth High School, being the tradition-rich program that it is.
Our girls programs here at North are very strong, and they've been very strong. And I see that again next year. Our softball team has a lot of returners coming back and we lost very little. Our girls basketball program, they lost one senior and that's it. Our girls lacrosse program doubled their wins this year. Our leading scorer was a freshman, and she set a school record for goals this year, which is pretty impressive. So yeah, we've always been pretty strong in female sports.
FCN: Obviously, the team that saw the most success for you this year was girls basketball, who made a second straight appearance in the state semifinals. What has made that particular program so successful over the last few years, and what do you think the outlook is for them with a new head coach next season?
Tilden: Watch them practice. That's how they do it -- their practices are full-tilt, hard core. Anything they see in the regular season is nothing (compared) to what they've been doing in practice. That was a big part of coach (Eric) Herrick's leadership. He really worked them hard in practice and the girls bought into that. Now, they don't know any other way but to play extremely hard. You can watch them play summer games and you'll see the same thing -- they're going to lay out for loose balls, they're going to take charges, they're going to beat the other team in all the effort areas. That's just what's been developed over time with that program. I don't expect that to change at all with coach (Brad) Kudlas. I expect it to increase, if anything, especially with these seniors coming back next year. They've already set the bar high, and they've already set the standard and expectations.
Coach Herrick did a lot for this program and we're thankful for all that he did in putting North Forsyth on the map as far as girls basketball is concerned. I'm excited about coach Kudlas -- he's definitely paid his dues as a longtime varsity assistant for both boys programs and girls programs. If there was going to be a good time for a change, this was it, with such a strong group of girls coming back next year. I don't think we're going to miss a beat.
FCN: You had a lot of success from individuals this year, but in some team sports there have been struggles, particularly in the spring. Why do you think that is, and what do you think needs to happen for those programs to improve?
Tilden: I think we face some of the same problems Forsyth Central has had. We've been a little smaller population-wise. Two years ago, you saw South Forsyth High School's population at that number. Lambert's population was right at 3000. West was going over 2600 and we were below 2500. We’ve had some very good individual accomplishments this year, but overall, teamwise, while we've had some good performances, we've had some programs that have struggled a little bit. I think some of that -- not all of that -- but a part of that is your numbers. It helps to provide that depth that you need in some of those sports programs that have struggled a little bit. The problem has been depth.
I think it's going to improve somewhat naturally as our numbers continue to grow, but (more importantly) our coaches have done a very good job working hard to develop their feeder programs here at North. That's going to create better depth than anything. We start to raise the excitement for those programs at a very young age and teach them developmental skills and fundamentals that lead to having some success. I think we'll see the benefit of that over the next five years.