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No. 1 South volleyball hosts big tournament
Lady War Eagles welcome seven of top eight teams in Georgia to All City Challenge
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Jordan Hawk, far left, Kelli McCravy, far right, and South Forsyth volleyball have had plenty to celebrate this season. The Lady War Eagles are 26-2 and ranked No. 1 in Class 6A as they host the first All-City Play Day tomorrow. - photo by Brian Paglia

If you go

Who: Blessed Trinity, Chattahoochee, Harrison, Johns Creek, Lakeside-DeKalb, Lambert, Lassiter, Northview, North Cobb, Pope, South Forsyth, Walton, Woodward Academy.

What: All City Challenge volleyball tournament

When, where: Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., at South Forsyth High School.

What to know: The event will benefit Angels Among Us Pet Rescue, including an adoption event.

The day after South Forsyth volleyball went undefeated in the Lovett Block Party, 24 hours after the Lady War Eagles won arguably the state’s most arduous play day without losing a set, the team sat down to watch film and talk about what went wrong.

South beat the likes of Harrison, Landmark Christian (twice), Starr’s Mill and Westminster, teams with 12 state titles between them. They were proud, jubilant even, and posed for pictures afterwards with the tournament trophy.

A day later, South coach Kelly Wren brought them back down.

"We didn’t play well that weekend," Wren said. "We didn’t drop a set, but when we broke down the statistics we had deficiencies in several areas."

"She just kept reminding us that we’ve got work to do," senior setter Kelli McCravy said. "We saw there were still things we need to work on."

Said junior middle hitter Taylor Svehla: "We always have to stay level-headed. There’s always more work to do."

As South has navigated through its most anticipated season in school history, its toughest challenge has been to manage expectations. The Lady War Eagles (26-2, 2-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) are ranked No. 1 in Class 6A by and MaxPreps, which also ranks South at second in the state and 54th in the nation. This is unprecedented territory for South.

It’s new to the accolades and attention it’s received from opponents and pundits. Last season’s quarterfinals appearance in the state playoffs was the biggest milestone in program history. Meanwhile, the teams South will host in its first ever All City Challenge on Saturday have milestones on top of milestones. Seven of the top eight teams in the state will be at South, including six teams who have won a combined 28 state championships.

"This is a great chance to get a lot of competition in and get battle-tested," Svehla said, "to test ourselves on how well we’ve been working."

After its first region tri-match of the season, South was back at work on Wednesday. At 4:02 p.m., the team lined up and began warming up at practice without a coach in sight. Assistant coach Kelly Brown arrived soon after and had the team begin a drill. The team split into groups of three. One player lined up across from another, the third waiting nearby as the three set the ball and rotated between the two spots yelling, ‘Mine!’ after each set.

Two minutes passed when Brown blew her whistle to stop the drill.

"We’re going to do it right," she said.

South started the drill again. The players’ rotation was a little swifter, their sets a little crisper.

These are the kinds of details that Wren and South’s coaching staff obsess over. The team watches tape frequently, like after the Lovett tournament, to analyze its performance. A third of the way through the season, Wren had individual meetings with the team’s regular players. South keeps a deep inventory of statistics that reveal which rotations are the most successful and allows Wren to make adjustments.

"That has made us much more successful," Wren said. "We’ve made adjustments … that made a difference between losing to Harrison and beating Harrison."

The presence of a team like Harrison at this weekend’s tournament marks another milestone for South’s emergence. Wren had the Lady War Eagles travel all over the metro Atlanta area the past few seasons to play the best competition. It was by design and adhered to a simple coaching mantra – to become one of the best South needed to play against the best.

After breaking through in the playoffs last season and returning a bevy of talent this season, Wren felt the Lady War Eagles finally had the reputation to ask the best teams to come to them. So here they are, 13 in all to let South gauge itself going into the second half of the season.

But there’s one in particular the Lady War Eagles are anxious to play – Walton. The Lady Raiders are the standard for South or any emerging volleyball program for that matter. They’ve won eight state titles in school history, including the past three in the state’s highest classification. They are formidable again this season – Walton is ranked No. 5 in Class 6A by MaxPreps after spending much of the season in the top spot.

"I feel like this is the time that we should show them that we’re going to be competition for them," senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Rachel Croce said.