SUWANEE — The match was long over, with the celebratory pictures taken and the losing team back in the locker room, and the North Forsyth volleyball team was still yelling, letting out shouts of joy tinged with the adrenaline of the biggest win in program history.
The Raiders were down two sets to none on Tuesday at North Gwinnett in the second round of the state playoffs, the possibility of another postseason disappointment staring at them. They had already lost the area title game and the right to a No. 1 playoff seed to Lambert, and now they were a set from seeing perhaps the program's best season ever end in a road playoff matchup.
That thought never really entered the Raiders' minds, though. They won in a thrilling comeback, 17-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13, and now they're in the state quarterfinals.
"I never really got in that frame of mind (of losing)," North Forsyth co-head coach Drew Cecil said. "I don't think our girls did, either."
The teams effectively switched places as the match went on. North Forsyth's early struggles were marked by a shaky service game and ball control, but as the Raiders tightened up, they found holes in North Gwinnett's defense, gained energy and put the home crowd on an anxious edge.
"We were kind of complacent the first and second (sets)," North co-head coach Kelly Cecil said. "And then our backs kind of got against the walls, and they stepped up (and) found that energy that they've been needing all season."
North Forsyth swung the momentum all the way in its direction in the third set, at one point winning 10 straight points to go up 22-11. The Bulldogs (38-6) came back to make that set competitive, and the rest had more of a balanced character, but the Raiders (40-9) were almost always a bit ahead. North Forsyth took an 8-7 lead in the fifth set and would hold that advantage the rest of the way, sealing the match when Caitlin O'Farrell's serve sailed long.
That's a final. North Forsyth volleyball comes back from two sets down to beat North Gwinnett and move on to the state quarterfinals. pic.twitter.com/BrmtlzrWhH— Ian Frazer (@ianmcfrazer) October 17, 2017
Tuesday's matchup was not particularly favorable for either team: With North Gwinnett ranked fifth in the state and North Forsyth ranked third, it seemed more befitting of a quarterfinal matchup, at the earliest. The Raiders had also come across the Bulldogs earlier in the year, having lost in two sets before area play, and in 2016, losing to North Gwinnett in the second round of the playoffs.
"I was nervous," North Forsyth outside hitter Maddie Bryant said. "But I was also excited, and determined not to end our season to them again."
But the Raiders' ascent as a program didn't stop in Suwanee. Their area performance showed that they are now in the same tier as the historically successful programs at Lambert and South Forsyth, and the Raiders now join the War Eagles and Longhorns in the state quarterfinals, with the latter two programs making repeat appearances.