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Volleyball: South falls to North Gwinnett in second round after five-set comeback

South Forsyth volleyball has been used to heartbreak in recent weeks.

The War Eagles’ five-set loss to Milton in the Area 5-7A championship game two weeks ago was an emotional one, and took home court advantage in the playoffs from them. On Tuesday night, South faced North Gwinnett in the Sweet 16, and with an early 2-0 lead, it again very briefly looked like the War Eagles had a chance at their desired prize.

But in time, the favored Bulldogs woke up, and when they did, the War Eagles could not match them. South’s comfortable lead quickly fell into a tie, and in the end, the War Eagles fell in a another five-set match, 25-18, 25-12, 21-25, 6-25, 7-15.

“The girls played great,” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “They executed the game plan very well in the first two sets. North Gwinnett started passing better — our game plan was to serve aggressively so they couldn’t run their middle, because obviously their middle is very effective. They started serving and passing better. That allowed them to run more of their offense, and we weren’t able to respond.”

North Gwinnett grabbed its first lead of the match at the start of the third set, eventually working to a 16-10 lead. Still, South had a good chance to end it and advance to the Elite Eight, with the War Eagles narrowing the Bulldog lead to 21-20. Despite a nice diving dig by Gabi Conde-Borres to keep the next rally going, the Bulldogs took the point and eventually their first set win, 25-21.

The momentum only grew from there, as North Gwinnett began to clean up their previous mistakes. In the fourth set, it was complete domination by the Bulldogs, who cruised to a 25-6 win. Meanwhile, the War Eagles just had no answers. 

A Molly Bergin kill started South well in the deciding fifth set, but it was the only lead the War Eagles could muster, with the Bulldogs ultimately completing their comeback victory.

“(North Gwinnett was) just clicking completely — that just happens,” Wren said. “I don’t think we slacked off at all.”

The first two sets were marked by plenty of mistakes on North Gwinnett’s side — misplayed passes and shots that sailed out being the main culprits. The War Eagles played sound early on to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ miscues, going on a 9-0 run to take a 15-5 lead in the first set. The Bulldogs fought back to narrow South’s lead to four at one point, but the War Eagles hung on for the early advantage.

The passing woes just continued for North Gwinnett in the second. With a fairly easy 13-point win in the second set, the home crowd fell silent with the Bulldogs in a 2-0 hole, only to gain new life once they came alive.

After the Milton loss, there was tons of emotion and frustration, but it was a different feeling after Tuesday's loss. This one stung too, but South's loss was not for lack of trying. For the War Eagles' now-departing key senior, that's all that mattered.

“I think we definitely improved from our region match,” Bergin said. “It’s definitely not the outcome we wanted but I’m really proud of all the girls.

“We went to five sets and that was our goal. We played the best we could. I’m really proud of our team — we had a great season. I have no bad things to say.”