JOHNS CREEK – South Forsyth volleyball coach Kelly Wren made for a stoic figure pacing the sidelines, clipboard in hand, as the Lady War Eagles drew achingly close to an Area 6-AAAAAA championship.
Johns Creek — playing in friendly surroundings as the No. 1 seed in the area tournament — held off South to win the first set, but the Lady War Eagles won the next two stanzas. South was on the cusp.
And then, it wasn’t. Johns Creek, perhaps a team that plays best when challenged, stormed to a 17-5 lead in the fourth set with a noisy student section urging them on. The Lady Gladiators breezed through that set and took the deciding frame as Johns Creek earned the area championship, 26-24, 23-25, 21-25, 25-10, 15-13.
An emotional Wren said after the match that it wasn’t fatigue to blame for the Lady War Eagles’ loss; South had played five-set matches during the regular season against North Gwinnett, Milton and Cambridge. Instead, she lamented South’s up-and-down ways.
“We absolutely have to play more consistent volleyball,” Wren said. “From point-to-point, set-to-set, we have to be better.”
South led, 11-10, in the first set after Taylor Svehla’s kill, but the Lady Gladiators went on a 10-2 run behind Olivia Durrence. South’s Amanda Nugent (20 kills), Shealyn McNamara (five kills, three blocks) and Giana Frangipane’s (five kills) hitting and defensive work at the net helped the Lady War Eagles pull back in front of Johns Creek at 22-21. A double touch call on South gave the Lady Gladiators the lead back at 23-22, and kills from Crystal Childs, Madison Harty and Madeline Savage won Johns Creek the opening frame.
The Lady War Eagles couldn’t quite shake Johns Creek in the second set — South’s largest lead was four — but Wren called a timeout at just the right moment. Leading 21-18, South committed two simple errors to give away two straight points. It summed up the Lady War Eagles’ night aptly: so good for stretches, and, well, not so great at some points. After the timeout, Svehla tallied two kills and South evened the final at one set apiece.
Another timeout in the third set spurred South on. The Lady War Eagles trailed, 14-9, when Wren signaled for time to the referee; South then won four straight points, and, later, Svehla’s kill tied the set at 18-all. Svehla (22 kills, 11 digs) finished off the set’s 40th point for a 21-19 South lead, forcing a Johns Creek timeout; Svehla made two more kills and prompted Johns Creek coach Beth Stephens to take another timeout. Nugent put away the last two points to give South a 2-1 set lead.
Call it inconsistency, call it fatigue, call it nerves, but the attitude in the Johns Creek gym shifted noticeably when the Lady Gladiators built an 8-3 fourth-set lead and Wren called timeout. This time, it didn’t help. Johns Creek outscored the Lady War Eagles 9-2 from there for a 17-5 lead, and an ace closed South out to force a deciding fifth set.
Wren was spot-on about the fifth set: South’s inconsistent ways came back to bite the Lady War Eagles. South actually led, 5-2, before Childs’ kill tied the set at seven apiece. Johns Creek pulled ahead 11-9, and Wren called timeout; South tied it at 11, and Stephens called timeout.
The Lady War Eagles were agonizingly close, leading 13-12 in the fifth set and just two points shy of a win. After 53 matches and 132 sets, it was two points that separated South from an elusive area title.
For South, Erin Yeatman and Kailey Carr finished with 32 and 17 digs, respectively, and Hannah Larson had 35 assists.