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State of the program: Senior class leads the way for North in 2019-20
North Forsyth’s student section celebrates last year during the Raiders’ Aug. 9 scrimmage against Dawson County. File photo

North Forsyth 

Year in Review

Region titles: 2 (Softball, girls basketball)

Team state titles: 0

Individual state titles: 2 (Hailey Galbraith, Dylan Lyerly)

Director’s Cup finish: 15th in Class 7A (14th in girls; 21st in boys)

Best boys state finish: Fifth, wrestling

Best girls state finish: Third, cheerleading

This story is the second in a summer series looking back at each Forsyth County school’s athletic year with that athletic director.

There’s one number that sticks out to North Forsyth athletic director Scott Tilden when he recounts the 2019-20 school year.

It’s the number 32, which is the amount of North Forsyth student-athletes who signed to continue their athletic careers in college.

"I don't know if we've ever had a number that high,” Tilden said, “and that's just a testament to the seniors that we had."

North Forsyth’s senior class helped lead the softball team back to Columbus, it rallied the girls basketball team into the Elite Eight, and it guided the football team into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nearly 15 years.

But spring sports seniors were left to wonder what could have been, specifically the Raiders’ baseball team, which balanced itself with talent from upperclassmen and underclassmen alike.

“How far could they have gone? I hate to even ask that question now, because it's a heartbreaking question,” Tilden said. “I think they could have gone very far."

Still, Hailey Galbraith won her second straight state championship in the 50 freestyle, and a week later, Dylan Lyerly captured a state title in wrestling, beating Lambert’s Thomas Dossett in the 220-pound weight class.

Alex Gonzalez set a school record in the 100-yard backstroke, finishing second at the state championships, while the Raiders’ girls basketball team set school records in points scored in a game (102) and 3-pointers scored in a game (19).

FCN: North Forsyth’s 2019-20 school year was one to remember for many reasons. What stood out to you?

Tilden: "Our softball team finished 31-5, won their second straight region championship and advanced to the Elite Eight of the state playoffs, so they had a great year."

"Our competition cheer team had another great year, finishing third in Class 7A. So, another big year for them."

North Forsyth senior Mallorie Black, right high-fives Anslee Anderson after scoring a run against Mill Creek on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. - photo by David Almeda
"Our football team finished second in the region and made it to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2006, so that was a great year for them as well."

"Our girls basketball team finished 27-3, won their third straight region championship and went on to play in the Elite Eight of the state playoffs. I believe they finished the season ranked third, according to Maxpreps, for Class 7A."

"Our wrestling team finished in the top five at the state duals, and once again, they produced one individual state champion."

"Our swim team, they also produced another individual state champion."

"Our mountain biking team placed fourth in the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling League Division in their second season."

"Our bass fishing team won its ninth straight county championship and finished fourth at the state and 11th at the national championships."

"Our rifle team finished second in the area, with one state qualifier who didn't get to finish his day, of course, because the of things being shut down."

FCN: Dance and flag football are becoming GHSA-sanctioned sports this coming year, and North Forsyth is adding gymnastics. How do you feel about competing in a county that’s an established state power in gymnastics?

Tilden: "We're excited about that. The domination by Forsyth County is very similar to comp cheer. “This county is so strong, and this region is so strong in comp cheer, and gymnastics is very similar to that."

"We've added a lot over the last three, four years."

FCN: Obviously a lot of excitement surrounding football after that Brookwood game. Going into the fifth year of the Robert Craft era, how do you rate the football program?

Tilden: "I think it's very strong. We have another great group coming back, we have a great coaching staff and we added a few coaches this year that I think is going to make our coaching staff even better."

North Forsyth's Nicky Dalmolin leaps up for a catch in the Raiders' comeback win over Brookwood on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. - photo by Ben Hendren
"We're just now starting to see some of the benefits of the feeder program that Coach Craft and a large number of people helped to establish here at North Forsyth. Really, that win last year illustrated where we're going. Forsyth County, we've always made the playoffs and run up against Gwinnett and it's usually been game over for Forsyth County teams. That was a big win last year over a Gwinnett County team, a very storied team and strong tradition in Brookwood. I think that was another big step that Coach Craft has taken with this program, and I think it's just going to go from there."

"You really see the job that they've done, just as a culture, number one, but in the weight room. Every year our kids are getting stronger and stronger, and that's the biggest difference that I've seen with these kids, is they're getting bigger, faster and stronger and able to compete against teams in our region -- we have a very good region -- but also when we leave our region and go play some other teams. I think we're much more competitive than we've been, and every year that seems to get better. I really credit our strength coach, Jesse Braswell, and the rest of the coaches for the job that they do with our players in getting these kids bigger, faster and stronger and able to compete against some of those top teams."

FCN: Softball successfully defended its region title, then made a run in the playoffs. Did anything surprise you about that group?

Tilden: "The result, second straight region championship, we had so many players come back, that was something we were shooting for, was a deep run into the playoffs. I'm sure they wanted to go further, but I think they had a great year. We're seeing a lot of those kids back this year, and that experience to be able to play at that level, at the state championships, is going to do nothing but benefit the team as we start the season this year."

"We had a really good group coming back. We had a transfer come in from Mill Creek that's going to help solidify our pitching staff. We've got a good group of seniors that are going to help lead this team. Our coaching staff, they do a great job with our girls. It's going to be another exciting year."

"All of those things were without spring sports, of course. I think we finished 15th in the Director's Cup, which I believe is a high -- well, it's definitely a high for North Forsyth in Class 7A. So, it would have been interesting to see where we would have finished up after spring sports, because I really think we had a good season going for a lot of these teams."

"Lacrosse, both boys and girls have not made the playoffs in 7A, and both of them had a really good chance to get inside that top four and make the state playoffs for the first time."

"Our baseball team, eight seniors this year. Gosh, I'm really depressed about that. We had some great pitchers. I know I'm the athletic director, but I'm a big fan, and we had some really competitive pitchers on that team that I was looking forward to watching compete."

"Across the board, all of the programs in the spring, we had great seniors, but we also had great families of seniors. Families that were really invested into our programs, that have been very supportive of our programs since the ninth-grade year. I know these families were looking forward to this season as much and more so than their kids. It was just a very depressing thing to see that get pulled out from underneath them. I sometimes have a hard time looking them in the face."

FCN: With Garrett Staton and Anthony DiMola being our players of the year, then a really talented group of pitchers and underclassmen, how far do you think the baseball team could have gone in playoffs?

Tilden: "That's the million-dollar question. I think they could have made a heck of a run. Staton leading the team in the field and DiMola was just so competitive on the mound. I was super excited to see how far that team could go. Again, we had eight seniors on that team, and they were great seniors; they showed great leadership. It was a year that we were looking forward to. I know the coaches were excited about that year, and to see it end that way was very disappointing.”

FCN: There was a lot of buzz around the girls basketball program and that solid senior core. That buzz coincided with Brad Kudlas’ first year as head coach. What did you think of year one?

Caroline Martin
Photo by Ben Hendren
Tilden: "I think Brad and his entire staff did a good job. It was really business as usual with that team. It was almost like, 'Hey, don't mess it up.' It was that good of a group. That group of seniors had been playing together, and been playing at the varsity level at North really since their freshman year. It was a very strong senior class, a class that had been successful, that had made the Final Four the last two years and won region championships the last two years. It was just a matter of keeping it on the right track, and Brad did that. Brad did a very good job in his first year."

"Now, he’s got a challenge next year, because he lost a lot of really good basketball players. It's a little bit of a different challenge. We've got a different group. You'll probably see a different style of gameplay with this group that we have. It's going to be a little different, obviously. That happens as you kind of rebuild or reload, so to speak -- teams are different. So, we've definitely got an interesting group coming up. A few seniors are going to have to step up and really lead the team now that that strong group of seniors is gone."

FCN: That takes us to wrestling. As an athletic director, what’s it like knowing that a program is going to be competitive at the state level year in and year out?

Tilden: "It's great. Travis (Jarrard) and his staff do a phenomenal job. Honestly, last year we were super young. We thought we were going to take it on the chin a little bit -- and we did at certain times. We always say it's where you end up, it's not where you start. I think that's an example of the great job Coach Jarrard and his staff do. The improvement that takes place during the season is really impressive."

"You had a sophomore win a state championship that I didn't think he had any business winning, if you want to know the truth. But he found a way, grinded it out and it was a phenomenal win for him. And we had another sophomore, Bentley (Wheeler), who finished runner-up against a very tough senior over at Collins Hill that I thought was a heck of a wrestler. So, Bentley finished runner-up there and he was a sophomore. It's a very young team, and anyone that thinks, 'Well, North wrestling, they're young, they're not going to make any noise,' I think that's a huge mistake to think that."

FCN: How do schools make up for all of the lost revenue during the spring season?

Tilden: "There was a loss last year, sure, but we got the football season in. As you know, football is the big revenue maker for high school athletics. The hit will really be if football season doesn't happen this year. That's where the budgets will be greatly strained. Not to say our spring sports programs didn't suffer last year -- they did, not being able to finish out the year. So, the additional gate money they could have made, the additional concessions money they could have made, or the additional sponsorships, or anything like that, it didn't come through."

"Coming into this year, every program has had to evaluate their sponsorships, because as the private sector is really being hit hard with this, some of your business sponsorships are not going to happen this year. Some of the donors that give to your program, the individual donors that give to your program, it may not happen this year. So, budgets are going to be tight. It's probably not going to be a great year for a lot of capital expenditures, from the standpoint of programs upgrading their facilities, or even athletic departments upgrading their facilities, because budgets are going to be tight, knowing that revenue is going to be a lot less."

State of the Program: West Forsyth