The playoffs are officially here.
It can’t truly be a postseason tournament without some sort of upset.
After Forsyth Central swept Gainesville, sixth-seeded Denmark upset third-seeded West 3-1, winning the final three sets of the match.
The win gives Denmark its first state playoff berth in program history, which was a huge moment for head coach Jaime Maxey’s team.
“Our second and third year, we were in that 4-5 play-in game both years,” Maxey said. “I think both years we finished fourth in the regular season, but went into that play-in game, and it didn’t go our way. So for us to have some unfortunate losses this year, coming in as a six seed, having to play last night, winning that then having to turn around and play a three seed and getting that upset, it just means so much.
"Especially for our kids that have been here all four years. This is our first group to go through, so it just means a lot.”
After defeating seventh-seeded South 3-1 on Monday, Denmark had a quick turnaround before facing a tough West team (26-14).
“We had a game plan coming in for them,” Maxey said. “Their two outsides are really great players, and we had to contain them. We came up with a game plan, and our kids stuck to it through the highs and the lows. They executed, and they just did a great job tonight.”
Maxey’s message to her team before playing the tournament’s host West on their home floor was one that’ll continue to motivate the team as long as their season continues.
“We told them over and over all week, ‘You guys have to truly believe that you can do this,’” Maxey said. “‘You guys have all the talent in the world, and you guys are a great team when you wanna be. If we can get everyone to buy into their role, doesn’t matter how big or small that is, you’re gonna come out on top.’ I think we did that tonight.”
In the earlier game, fourth-seeded Central handled fifth-seeded Gainesville. While those sorts of matches are generally more competitive, Central head coach Brian Welsch feels like his team played well and will look to grow from it as the tournament continues.
“I think the girls were confident,” Welsch said. “I think there’s a little bit of nerves any time your season might be on the line. There’s a little bit of, ‘How’s this gonna go?’ and ‘I don’t wanna make a mistake’ instead of just stepping out there. I love the scrap that the Gainesville team plays with, and I think Coach [Randy] Roys does a great with them. We were a little more prepared for them, having just played them on Thursday. But it took us a second to get into our roll and into our momentum. The thing I was most proud of was losing a couple of serve receive runs, losing a couple points and still being able to fight back.”
The win locks Central in for a state playoff berth. While there’s a sense of security that comes with knowing your season won’t end after a loss, Welsch is focused on his team maintaining the energy they’ve been playing with and seeing how far they can go.
“The old phrase is playing with house money,” Welsch said. “We’re playing free volleyball. We’ve got an opportunity to compete with a really good Lambert team to try to get into the region finals. Our girls have fought tooth-and-nail. We’ve got a great senior class that is taking their second trip to the state tournament. Right now, we’re just playing with smiles and for fun”
Earlier this week, Senior Sarah Pipping, who had 12 kills in the match, committed to West Georgia to continue her volleyball career. To Welsch, the commitment gives her security in her future, which will benefit her play now.
“To me, she’s probably a little more relaxed,” Welsch said. “This year, her any of the other seniors, Emma [Kiser], they stressed with all of the COVID situations. I think that it’s always stressful to figure out a commitment. I think any time you can take all of the implications off of the table and just play to play, and play through your teammates, and play for your school, and help represent, it makes things a little bit easier and a bit more relaxed.”
Both teams have a quick turnaround, with Denmark facing second-seeded North 5 p.m. Wednesday, and Central playing top-seeded Lambert in the later game.
“A lot of rest,” Maxey said. “We’re gonna have to get another game plan for North, another great team with some really good players. We’re just gonna have to get out there, execute and play hard.”