Somewhere in the mosh pit of high school students on the South Forsyth High School gymnasium court Wednesday were the authors of history. They were swallowed for a moment in the jumping and yelling, concealed by the adolescent jubilation. The adults saw all of it through the screens of their smartphones and tablets they held up to document the moment.
Eventually, the first South volleyball players emerged from the maelstrom wiping wet eyes. No one left the court. No one wanted to leave the court. There were too many hugs to get and give, too many pictures to take, too much to soak in after the Lady War Eagles’ 3-2 (14-25, 25-21, 32-30, 22-25, 15-11) victory against Harrison clinched South’s place in the Class AAAAAA Volleyball State Championship.
When the Lady War Eagles (41-7) play in that state final match Saturday at Marietta High School at 4 p.m., they will be the first team from Forsyth County to ever do so in the Georgia High School Association volleyball playoffs.
“I’m so proud of everybody,” South junior outside hitter Lily Kincaid said. “They put their heart out on the court. It’s so exciting. I don’t know how to describe it.”
“It’s amazing,” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “There’s no other way to describe it. It’s something we’ve been building to for eight years, and we’re finally here.”
The path to that pinnacle moment will end in perfect symmetry: South faces Walton, the team the Lady War Eagles opened the season against on Aug. 11 with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-19, 25-13) loss and was eliminated by in South’s first appearance in the state semifinals in 2013.
But players on both teams will hardly be familiar with that last playoff encounter. Indeed, South was more familiar with its foe Wednesday night, a Harrison team it played in late August. That had been a grueling affair, a five-set marathon South won. The Lady War Eagles expected the same Wednesday.
“I wasn’t really looking forward to it to be completely honest,” Wren said.
Harrison did little to assuage Wren’s concerns early on. South fell behind 13-8 in the first set. Wren called a timeout to regroup. Instead it only got worse. South missed three hits, misjudged a serve and trailed 17-8. Wren called another timeout to no avail.
After South rebounded to take the second set, the Lady War Eagles and Kincaid had their mettle tested in a bewildering third set.
At the start, Harrison seemed on its way to another set victory that would put South on the brink of elimination. The Lady Hoyas led 9-5 after a kill from their dynamic junior middle hitter Katie Doering (19 kills, five blocks). Wren called timeout, but Kincaid promptly missed a hit, her second in a row.
Wren subbed in sophomore Hannah McGlockton for Kincaid, a move that both sparked South and challenged Kincaid. McGlockton had a kill and block as part of South’s 8-1 run to take a 13-11 lead. Kincaid eventually returned and put down the winning point to give the Lady War Eagles a two-sets-to-one lead.
Even as South battled its ball control issues in the fourth set, Kincaid was a steadying presence putting down four in a row during a late 9-2 run by South that cut Harrison’s lead from 20-12 to 22-20.
“I was making a lot of stupid errors like hitting it into the net or tipping it too far. That got in my head,” Kincaid said. “I was like, ‘I really don’t want to get subbed out again. I want [the team] to have confidence in me.’ So I don’t know, it’s like a fire came in my belly, and I really tried hard to make them proud.”
Kincaid assisted on a block and had two of her 14 kills during the climatic fifth set. Amanda Nugent led South with 25 kills to go along with 13 digs, while Avery Kline added nine kills and five blocks. Courtney Darling (53 assists, 11 digs), Savian Jordan (10 digs) and Erin Yeatman (45 digs) led a scrappy defensive effort.
They were all there, somewhere, in the middle of that jubilant scrum on the court afterward. And why not? It was their last chance, one final celebration after so many in The Nest this season. If there is another chance to celebrate, it won’t be here. It will be back where this season started: back in Cobb County to face Walton.