The name North Forsyth is synonymous with certain sports.
The Raiders are perennial playoff contenders in sports such as softball, girls basketball, wrestling and baseball, among others.
But as North athletic director Scott Tilden reflects on the 2020-21 school year, it’s apparent to him that many of the Raiders’ other programs are on the rise.
North’s volleyball team reached the Sweet 16 after an appearance in the Region 6-7A championship match. Four spring programs – boys soccer, girls soccer, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse – enjoyed their best season in school history. Track and field sent 11 athletes to the Class 7A state championship meet, highlighted by freshman Lexi Durban’s fourth-place finish in the shot put.
And as a new school year approaches, Tilden believes the Raiders are ready to take the next step.
FCN: Is there anything in particular that stuck out to you this school year?
North Forsyth Year in Review
Region titles: 1 [Girls basketball].
Team state titles: 1
Individual state titles: 1 [Bentley Wheeler, wrestling]
Directors Cup finish: 36th in Class 7A [25th in girls, 42nd in boys]
Best boys state finish: First, esports
Best girls state finish: Elite Eight, softball and girls basketball
College signees: 23
Tilden: “First, I really appreciate the leadership we had in all of our schools, and definitely the leadership we had down at the county level with Dr. Bearden continuing to push for keeping schools open. Of course, we’re going to do it safely, but I think it was their leadership that played a big factor in keeping athletics going. After what we experienced in the spring, I think that was very important – not only for the students at the school and the school in general, but also for the community to get back to a little bit of a sense of normalcy.”
FCN: North’s spring sports didn’t have the same playoff success that some of the other county schools. Still, girls soccer had the most wins in school history, track and field put together a really impressive season, boys soccer was markedly improved, and girls lacrosse was two goals shy of a playoff berth. How optimistic are you about North’s spring programs?
Tilden: “I feel like North is almost where West was six years ago – maybe eight years ago – where their spring sports were struggling … Yes, we are in what I consider to be the best region in the state for spring sports. No doubt about that. So, if you’re not ready to play, you’re going to take it on the chin in this region. Really over the last couple years, I think we’ve seen great improvement in spring sports.”
“Baseball is baseball. They’re always competing and they’ve done a great job, but boys and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse all set records for wins last year. We made great progress across the board. Bringing in Coach [Brandon] Stewart on the boys side, they became competitive immediately. They played really, really well and we’re super excited to have Coach Stewart on board and the job he’s doing with that program. He’s really changing the culture of that program. Coach [Jared] Steinberg did a good job with us and now we have Crystal Fowler stepping up to take over the girls soccer program, so we’re excited for her. Of course, we just had our lacrosse hire on the boys side with Coach [Stephen] O’Hara coming in. The players are really excited about that, and Coach O’Hara I think is going to bring a lot of energy to that program. He’s already been doing it this summer. Our girls lacrosse team was two goals from making the state playoffs for the first time. I think the pieces are in place and our coaches and student-athletes are working their butts off to I think really take that next step.”
FCN: Obviously, East Forsyth opening next month is going to directly affect North Forsyth and Forsyth Central. What kind of impact do you anticipate, in both students and coaches?
Tilden: “I thought maybe we would lose more coaches than we did, but we didn’t. Overall, we lost just over 500 students to East and Central, but this is a great community. It’s a great place to live and it’s a great place to raise a family. You can’t keep a house on the market here. As soon as it’s built, it sells. So, I don’t expect it to be very long before our numbers are right back up to where they were before.”
“If you’re a competitor, North Forsyth is the place to be. We play in the toughest classification in the state, the most competitive classification in 7A. I think from top to bottom, when you consider all sports, I think we play in one of the most competitive regions in the state as well. So, if you’re a competitor and you like to compete, North Forsyth is the place to be. No doubt.”
FCN: North Forsyth brought home an esports state championship in Madden. How do you take advantage of a growing sport like esports and turn it into a spectator event?
Tilden: “I think it’s much more popular than people realize. Kids are playing these games, so you’ve just got to sell it to these kids. Our coach, Max Stallings, has done an incredible job with outreach to these kids and getting these kids to buy in. He’s identified middle school kids now that want to get involved with esports, so Max has done a great job.”
“Because it’s so virtual, I don’t know that you’ll ever have big crowds. A lot of times these people are watching it virtually. So, they’re sitting at home on their couches and they’re watching their kids compete virtually or watching their friends compete virtually. But at the state finals, that was fun to watch. It was us versus Lambert. And of course, Lambert is great at everything in the spring, so you knew it was going to be a tough one. They’re looking in their monitors, the two kids that are playing, and they’re about 20 feet apart from each other. Behind them is this big screen, so that’s what the spectators watched. It’s like watching a football game. Of course, we all grew up on Madden, so anybody that played Madden is going to enjoy watching it.”
FCN: Girls basketball lost a ton of production last year but still won its fourth straight region championship. What is it about that program that produces such consistency?
Tilden: “The tradition that’s been established here previously by Coach [Eric] Herrick, and Coach [Brad] Kudlas of course being his longtime assistant just carried on that tradition. Just come watch them practice. We got a move-in recently and I don’t know that the move-in was used to practicing this hard. It’s one of those things where, when you ask the girls, [they say], ‘Well, they’ll either practice like we practice or they wont play.’ That’s their expectation. They’ve established a culture and a mindset where they’re just going to outplay everybody.”
“In Coach Kudlas’ first year, he had that great senior class of girls. Six seniors and the most successful senior class in school history. During their four years here, you’re looking at two Final Fours and an Elite Eight. Then they leave. They’re gone. They’re probably 95 percent of our offense. Caroline [Martin] is playing college right now, doing great up at North Georgia. They’re out the door now, and now you have a team coming back where the only real varsity experience you have coming back is our post player [Maddie Erickson], who wasn’t a big scorer, and then [Anna] Gliatta coming off the bench. She was a big contributor coming off the bench, but that’s really what you had in varsity experience. So, you have three new players coming on the team who don’t have a lot of varsity experience. But they know how to practice, and the expectations are there and the standards are there.”
FCN: You can probably say all of those same things about North’s wrestling program.
Tilden: “Some people said, ‘Oh, it’s a rebuilding year for North.’ Then the next thing you know you look at them and they’re fourth in the state in the individual tournament and they’re Elite Eight in the duals. They had one state champion this year and four state placers and two finalists. They’re just a model of consistency. They just keep it going year after year after year. All of that last year was with one senior. They’re going to be tough next year. Again, and I credit this of course to the players who are working their tails off, but I really give the coaches a lot of credit. The amount of progress you see in these kids; I’ll go to some of the early matches and I’ll see some kids wrestle and I’ll think, ‘Yeah, they’re going to struggle a little bit this year.’ Then, by the end of the year, that kid is placing at state. It’s just amazing the amount of progress these kids make in the wrestling program each year.”
FCN: Moving to fall, it seems like volleyball really took a step forward last year reaching the Sweet 16. How have you seen that program progress over the past few seasons?
Tilden: “Last year was fun. We had great senior leadership with Kate Perryman, who is now going to the Air Force on a full ride, Alyssa Maxwell and Anna Colone – Anna is playing at Toccoa Falls. We had three seniors that showed great leadership, but after that you had five freshmen and you had three sophomores and no juniors. It was a very young team last year, but their skillset was pretty good already for freshmen. You knew what you were getting with Kate and the seniors, but watching those young players improve throughout the year – and they ended up winning 36 matches last year and finished region runner-up.”
FCN: When you look at the football team, what do you consider its strengths heading into the fall?
Tilden: “The football team this year is going to be very tough on the line. Offensive and defensive fronts are going to be very, very good. The strength is our interior. We’ve got really good linemen, and of course Coach [Cecil] Flowe does an incredible job with them. We have a young quarterback [Drew Aucoin] as far as experience. He’s going to keep us steady and do well. We’re excited about it. We started 4-0 last year in non-region, then we got into region play and went 2-4. We were up 10-0 on Denmark and lost that one. We lost a really tough one to Central that hurt, 28-27. They love playing each other, and the rivalry is great. It goes back and forth. It’s almost like, throw out the records because this is going to be a tight game, which is great. It makes for a great rivalry. Central, they’re a lot of fun to play against in any sport. We enjoy that rivalry – sometimes.”
FCN: We talked some about COVID-19 and East Forsyth opening up on the north end of the county. What do you feel like North’s biggest challenge is heading into this school year?
Tilden: “I would say the greatest challenge that we have is not so much a challenge, but more of a concern. The concern that COVID cases may flare up again, causing seasons to be shorted or canceled. Obviously, we are more concerned with the welfare and safety of our students and members of our community, but I never want to relive the experience of having to tell players and coaches that their seasons are canceled. I feel fairly optimistic, but when talking with my coaches, this is something that is definitely on their minds.”
FCN: How did last year’s COVID-19 protocols such as reduced attendance affect North Forsyth?
Tilden: “It definitely impacted us in a negative way. Coach [Robert] Craft has done a great job with his schedule this year. We’ve actually got seven home games. One of them is a scrimmage, but it’s Dawson County and they travel great. That’ll be a fun scrimmage and a good gate. Then we have six home games after that. We have Central at home this year, which is always a big gate. We’ll rebound and we’ll be OK athletic budget-wise.”
“The thing that a lot of people don’t mention is, it also had a negative effect on all of the booster clubs as well. There were many fundraising scenarios that couldn’t take place. I know baseball does their big thing where they invite all the teams in and have that fundraiser, but they couldn’t have that last year. The football team didn’t do their pine straw sale. So, it also had a negative impact on our booster clubs as well. Their budgets were hurt. In north Forsyth, in this community, our people have always supported our local businesses, and our local businesses have always supported our schools and our athletic programs, so we’ll get through all of this together. We’ll rebound together and have a great year next year. I have no doubt about that.
“One thing about our weight room – a lot of people have worked hard to make that happen, and no one more so than [North Forsyth principal] Bob Carnaroli. To me, coming in as a new principal, I thought it was a great statement by him, because we’re not borrowing a dime for that. We found the funds to be able to pay for that. In that weight room, it’s a great space. I think we have the best space in the county, but some of our equipment was getting a little outdated and some of it was becoming unsafe. We have classrooms that use that space for weight training classes, so we have a lot of students that go in and use that facility. We needed to upgrade it and make it safe, and Mr. Carnaroli worked really hard to find the funds in the school to be able to make that happen. I thought it was a great statement from him that’s he’s invested not only in our students, but in our athletic programs as well. I can’t say enough about that, and I appreciate Mr. Carnaroli working with us on that. To me, the weight room is the core of every athletic program. We’re improving that, so we expect to see the benefits of that.”