JOHNS CREEK – When the moment finally came for South Forsyth volleyball to put away West Forsyth, senior middle hitter Taylor Svehla yelled out, “ONE!” as the ball hung in the air for setter Hannah Larson to distribute. It was the shortest and most logical set for Larson to make. Svehla, a senior and the county’s reigning player of the year, had exploited the Lady Wolverines all match.
Larson set it in front of the net, and Svehla’s blast finished off a 25-18, 25-21 victory over West on Tuesday at Johns Creek, a crucial Area 6-AAAAAA and county victory after both teams lost their matches last in the night.
“I thought Taylor was unstoppable,” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “We thrive off her being able to swing, and she’s getting a lot of good looks.”
“We were really trying to see where we measure up with teams in the [area],” Svehla said.
This match-up carried unusually elevated expectations, mostly due to West’s historic season. The Lady Wolverines (36-5, 5-4) entered the match ranked No. 7 in Class AAAAAA by MaxPreps a year after they went 18-22 and failed to reach the state playoffs. Behind a strong returning core of hitters Shelby and Chloe Lance and Caroline Frye, setter Jordan Leitch, libero Alyssa Robertson, and the addition of move-in outside hitter Taylor Ashcraft, West won 18 straight matches to begin the season.
South (31-17, 8-1), meanwhile, entered the match No. 8 in Class AAAAAA a year after the best season in program history. The Lady War Eagles reached the Final Four of the state playoffs, fueling expectations for this season despite graduating nine seniors.
South seemingly struggled early on, though much of that could be explained as a new-look team navigating through a grueling schedule. After a 25-20, 23-25, 25-18 loss to Johns Creek later Tuesday night, the Lady War Eagles had played 23 matches against teams ranked in the top 10 in their respective classification. South has gone 9-14 in those matches.
“We’ve had a really tough schedule, because I’ve scheduled it that way,” Wren said. “So in our [area], we just have to take care of business. We just have to perform.”
South performed when it needed to the most Tuesday. Overcoming double hits and net violations and strong stretches by West, the Lady War Eagles displayed their depth and skill that still makes them such a formidable postseason threat.
When West took a 13-10 lead in the first set, Svehla got an 11-1 run started with a kill from the right side. When West’s Taylor Ashcraft nailed a kill to tie things at 13-13 in the second set, it was Svehla again with a kill to spark a three-point run that gave South some cushion.
“A lot of things worked well,” Svehla said. “Our outsides were really terminating the ball well. And we were picking up a lot of things in the middle, like block touches and tips.”
Svehla led all players with 11 kills to go along with five aces and five digs. Amanda Nugent had seven kills and Savian Jordan added three kills getting good looks from setters Avery Tutt (eight assists) and Larson (12 assists).
“I think we did a better job,” Wren said. “This was a better Tuesday night performance that I’ve seen so far this year.”
Shelby Lance led West with seven kills and Ashcraft had five kills. Jordan Leitch had 18 assists. By the end of the night, West had lost to Johns Creek (25-22, 25-12) and Northview (19-25, 25-19, 25-23) and fallen to fourth in the area standings.
“I hope we learn from it,” West head coach Jake Dickey said. “I hope we play [South] again next week in the area tournament. Any time you can get to play a good team, you file those [matches] away, make some improvements and see if we can try it again.”