South Forsyth's volleyball team couldn't stop the Walton dynasty, but after an inspired third set where many of the Lady War Eagles' younger players made big contributions, head coach Kelly Wren thinks one day they might.
After falling 25-13 and 25-12 in the opening sets, South (41-8) built as much as a 17-10 lead in Set 3 before eventually running out of tricks, losing the set 25-21, to drop the Class AAAAAA state final against the Lady Raiders Saturday at Marietta High School.
While the felt like the big crowd was more of a factor in the semi-final match against Harrison, Wren knew her team would need a set to get comfortable against heavily-favored Walton. With the win, Walton (37-4) has now won five of the last six state titles and 10 of the last 23. They entered the weekend without a single loss against a Georgia team on the entire season.
“If we could have played the first set like the third set we would have been able to stay with them,” Wren said. “But it was just too little, too late.”
Through the first two sets the Lady War Eagles were often thumping themselves, making uncharacteristic misreads on friendly hits. They had 22 errors to Walton's 12 in the first two sets, and just four total kills in the second set.
“I just think they finally settled in. This was a nerve wracking experience. I knew it would take them at least a set to get comfortable. It's everything about this experience. We just talked about leaving everything out there. There was no reason to be nervous. We weren't supposed to win. We were a huge underdog. I felt like we could win, I felt we were good enough.”
In the second set, Walton relied heavily on outside hitter Tai Bierria. The senior had eight kills in the second set alone, and 12 for the match. Walton was also led by freshman Gabby Gonzales—one of three freshman on the team that stands above 6-foot-1. Gonzales recorded six kills in Set 3.
Much of South's success in Set 3 came from junior Lily Kincaid, who had six of her eight kills in the third set. Junior Amanda Nugent also got stronger as the match went on, finishing with eight kills. Towering middle hitter Shaelyn McNamara, also a junior, was a force at the net with four block points in the match and four kills.
The match was the final one at South for Courtney Darling, Caroline Kazjer, Rachel Ross and Giana Frangipane. With Kincade, Nugent, McNamara and defensive specialists Erin Yeatman and Savian Jordan all set to be seniors next year, Wren hopes the team will continue to trend upward.
After advancing to the state final for the first time, there's no where else to go but the very top.
“Next year, they will have this experience. Once you achieve that level it becomes a standard. I've seen that with us getting farther and farther each year,” Wren said.