MARIETTA –Two years ago, South Forsyth's volleyball team walked out from behind the visitor side of the Walton bleachers teary-eyed and reflective. The Lady War Eagles had reached the Class AAAAAA semifinals, the first team in Forsyth County to ever accomplish the feat, but was swept away, another casualty in Walton’s run to a then-fourth consecutive state championship. With a large class of seniors, it was a bittersweet moment to savor.
On Tuesday night, South walked out from behind the Walton bleachers again with the same result, swept away in a 25-13, 25-19, 25-13 loss to the Lady Raiders in a non-area match, but with a different countenance. With a large group of returning starters and contributors from last season’s state quarterfinals team, it was an instructive moment to process for South.
“They were a completely different standard, and so we have a lot of work to do,” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “I think we needed to see that. It makes you humble. Unless you play with them on this level, than it really doesn’t matter.”
This, after all, was just South’s first match of the season, but behind it there was great purpose. A summer of scrimmages produced only comfortable victories for the Lady War Eagles (0-1). South’s confidence went unthreatened.
But everything about Tuesday night was different. Walton students already filled the middle section of bleachers from top to bottom as the teams warmed up. Just before opening serve, much of Walton’s football team lumbered in and filled another section. Coordinated chants reverberated in the school’s gym. The students bounced up and down, testing the structural integrity of the bleachers.
And then there was the opponent, coming from all sides with players of college-level talent seemingly in midseason form already. Walton raced out to a 12-5 lead in the first game, and Wren called a timeout. The Lady Raiders went up 9-1 to start the second game, and Wren needed another timeout. When South got back-to-back points on a Giana Frangipane kill and Rachel Ross ace, it was Walton calling a timeout after its early lead in the third game was cut to 6-5.
But soon after three straight aces by Delaney Hans extended Walton’s lead to 15-9. South needed another timeout.
“Our serve receive let us down tonight,” Wren said. “I felt our blocking let us down a little bit tonight. There were some positional hitters that did not perform as they normally do.”
The flashes of South’s potential were displayed in unreliable bursts. Coming out of the timeout in the first game, Wren inserted outside hitter Lily Kincaid, who promptly had four of South’s next six points and finished with six kills. Junior outside hitter Amanda Nugent had a team-high nine kills. Auburn commit Shea McNamara had five kills.
Only Frangipane and Nugent were on that team two years ago that stepped into an atmosphere and stage no Forsyth County team had ever seen before.
That night was inspirational. Tuesday night was aspirational.
“We will get there,” Wren said. “By the end of the season, we will get there. We just have a lot of refining to do.”