The day after South Forsyth volleyball was eliminated early from the Area 5-AAAAAA tournament, the Lady War Eagles played soccer.
By the end of a practice filled with drills disguised as friendly competitions and some free time on the pitch, South had shrugged off much of the disappointment of its missed opportunity and refocused on another, more enticing opportunity – a state title.
"It was fun," freshman Amanda Nugent said. "It was a lot of drills. It was more to get our minds off [the area tournament] and get refocused."
"We felt better," senior defensive specialist Tory Wright said.
Despite a disappointing area tournament, the Lady War Eagles (45-12) travel to Brunswick (9-11) on Wednesday for the first round of the Class 6A tournament still buoyed by their accomplishments of the regular season.
They’ve already set a program record for victories in a season. They ascended to a No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. They won some of the most competitive tournaments in the state.
But even more than any of South’s regular season accolades, the Lady War Eagles have an understanding of what lies ahead that it lacked ast season when they made a historical run to the quarterfinals.
"We’re much more prepared," coach Kelly Wren said. "Every game last year was so, ‘What will happen, what will happen?’ because we had not been to the state playoffs in a couple of years as we’ve been rebuilding.
"Now, it just feels like this is the path, these are the steps. We know who we essentially have every step of the way, and we’re ready for it."
South feels even more prepared after that grueling area tournament. Yes, it lost to both Chattahoochee and Johns Creek, but the losses afforded the War Eagles a chance to assess their weaknesses going into the state playoffs.
What South discovered was the propensity for defenses to key on middle hitters Taylor Svehla, the Area 5-AAAAAA offensive player of the year, and Jordan Hawk. That formula worked during the regular season, but South found that Chattahoochee and Johns Creek made adjustments a second time around.
"Our offense was not as efficient as it needed to be," Wren said. "You want to sell your offense."
South is working on making its offense more diverse – for Svehla or Hawk to run up the middle while Rachel Croce or Hannah Shanley run up the right side, Nugent runs up the left side and the choreography of the attack bewilders opponents.
"I want it all to happen at the same time," Wren said, "so that everybody’s going up and the defense doesn’t know who to block."
It’s not new territory for the Lady War Eagles, but it’s an area that’s needs refinement, they said, if South wants to reach its ultimate goal.
"We know how to play volleyball," Nugent said. "We just need to get out of our own heads."
"We have the skill," Wright said. "Once our mental toughness is there, everything will come together."