The losses had piled up for three years, so the time had finally come for Katie Vazquez to show her Forsyth Central volleyball team how to win. She gave them a challenge one day at practice that was ostensibly ludicrous: Vazquez and Lady Bulldogs assistant coach Jennifer Buschell against the varsity teams’ starters, six on two, best of three sets.
It turned out to be an impactful display of resilience and teamwork by two former high school volleyball teammates.
Outnumbered, Vazquez and Buschell promptly won the first two sets.
"We would’ve won the third if we hadn’t let some boy join our team," Vazquez said. "He lost like three straight points for us."
Central’s volleyball team has been emblematic of a stunning start by Bulldog athletics to the 2014-15 school year. After splitting its first area matches Tuesday against North Atlanta and Riverwood, the Lady Bulldogs enter the second half of the season 11-7 overall and 1-1 in Area 7-AAAAA just a year after winning two matches all season.
Across the board, Central fall athletic teams are encountering remarkable success contrasted against recent history. The football team has dominating wins over Dawson County (27-7) and Woodland-Cartersville (36-14) to start a season 2-0 for the first time since 1998. The softball team is on a three-game winning streak to lift its record to 8-8 overall and 5-3 in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B. The boys and girls cross country teams are coming off a sweep of the UGA XC Invitational. The boys team is ranked No. 7 in the state by Ga.milesplit.com.
This athletic year was billed as a fresh start for Central with the hire of a new principal (Mitch Young), athletic director (Dan Kaplan) and eight new varsity head coaches. Young and Kaplan came over from West Forsyth, and Central athletes and coaches say they’ve brought a new energy to athletics at Central. Vazquez said both have come to matches and practices to meet and encourage the team. The school has already held three pep rallies, including one dedicated to fall sports teams, a first according to Bulldogs senior Amber Walsh.
"I think just the rejuvenated leadership here has changed things," Vazquez said. "We’re supported left and right by everyone. … It’s fun."
That’s been the tragedy of Central’s struggles in athletics the past few seasons. Sure, there have been compelling state playoff runs in baseball and girls basketball. Overall, the résumé has been bleak.
All the while, Central has maintained its unique culture as the city of Cumming’s high school. Central students are among the most passionate about their school that I encounter on social media, pouncing on any chance to celebrate a win or milestone.
"The school spirit here is second to none no matter what’s going on, it really is," Kaplan said. "To add in the winning that our fall teams are doing right now, it’s just adding to the spirit the school already has. I can say this school has more spirit than any school I’ve been associated with."
Case in point: the Lady Bulldogs volleyball team had a visible student section at their matches Tuesday to add to all the team parents. They responded during dramatic points in Central’s win against North Atlanta and narrow loss to Riverwood.
Here’s hoping Central gives them reason to keep coming back the rest of the school year, for the county is better when the Bulldogs are winning.
"I feel like we’re all just done with being that team that’s known for not being as good," said Walsh, who had a team-best 13 kills. "We really want to change it."