Since Kelly Wren took over the South Forsyth volleyball program in 2012, the Lady War Eagles have catapulted up the ranks from a run-of-the-mill program to one of the state's best. They've regularly made appearances in the state tournament and aren't strangers to eye-catching upsets — one could argue last Saturday's demolition of the 2014 state champion North Cobb Lady Warriors, in which South won in three sets, was a prime example.
There's only one team that has stood in the way of South and the coveted finality of its rise to prominence. That team is Walton, winners of five of the last six GHSA volleyball titles and 10 overall since the sport had a championship starting in 1993.
Wren's teams have faced off with Suzanne Fitzgerald's Lady Raiders six times since the first matchup in 2013. Walton has won every single set, including a 3-0 victory in the 2013 sate semis and last year's 3-0 sweep in the state title match — one where the Lady War Eagles found a groove late, but too late.
When the Lady War Eagles walked off the floor one year ago they did so committing to the idea that if they were to face Walton in the state playoffs again that they'd finally get over the hump. Considering Walton owns a 15-0 set advantage over South, that's quite a hump—but Wren knows that her group, of which nearly everyone returned to this year's team that won the area title—is capable of taking down the juggernaut of Georgia volleyball.
In fact, she thinks South is the only team that can do it.
“I think we are the only team that can really handle them, with us being fully healthy,” Wren said. “We're playing as well as we have all year, we're as healthy as we've been all year, and I think we'll be a good match for them.”
The stars aligned, but not quite in the way one would have envisioned. South faces Walton in tonight's semifinal for a chance to break through into the state championship for the second season in a row.
Another team that just so happens to be in the state semifinals is the surging Lambert Lady Longhorns, who have enjoyed their best season in program history under head coach Missey Hall with a 31-12 mark. In three tries, Lambert has not been able to beat South this season, but if they can get past Lassiter there's that chance they get one more go at the Lady War Eagles with Forsyth County's first state volleyball title on the line.
Lambert and Lassiter do share something in common, and it's quite specific — they are the only two programs from the state of Georgia to have a set win against Walton all season. Walton has not lost a single match to an in-state opponent.
So there is, in fact, a glimmer of hope for the two teams on the other side of the bracket.
Lambert will have to get through the Lady Trojans first, and they enter with a 3-1 victory over Lassiter already on the books from September.
“It was a time when we executed a game plan,” Hall said. “We have really good stats on Lassiter and we did a great job executing, taking their big hitter out that game. It's going to be a tough fight. They're a very good team, they're balanced like we are and they have a good coach.”
Both of Wednesday's semifinal matches will be on the road at Walton and Lassiter, respectively. Lambert will play at 6 p.m., with South starting at 6:30 p.m. If either team makes the finals the contest will be held Saturday at Marietta High School.