South Forsyth volleyball couldn’t top its historic 2015 season, when it became the first team for Forsyth County to reach a state championship match in the Georgia High School Association. The Lady War Eagles came up a match short in 2016, falling in the semifinals of the Class 7A state playoffs.
But Lady War Eagles senior Amanda Nugent topped her 2015 season, finishing with more kills (604) and digs (258) to be named the Forsyth County News’ Volleyball Player of the Year for the second straight time.
Nugent continues a tradition of sorts for South; a Lady War Eagles player has won the award five straight years. Former South standout Taylor Svehla won the award three straight seasons from 2012-14.
But Nugent had no allusions of helping to set or create traditions at South when she went out for the volleyball team as a freshman.
“I had no idea they had a good volleyball team,” Nugent said.
They did, but during Nugent’s career, South became a great volleyball team, and the demonstrative outside hitter was at the core of the Lady War Eagles’ rise to prominence in the state. Nugent helped South reach the state semifinals three out of her four seasons (2013, 2015, 2016), a state finals (2015), and win two area championships (2015, 2016).
Nugent, meanwhile, was twice selected to the all-state team while amassing 1,620 kills, 669 digs, 120 aces and 105 blocks during her career, regularly rising to the moment when South needed her to the most.
And the Lady War Eagles needed her to more than ever this past season.
Despite returning the bulk of its team that reached the state championship in 2015, South endured more adversity this season. Injuries to starters Avery Kline, Shea McNamara and Erin Yeatman took their toll; Nugent pushed through shoulder pain of her own.
All the injuries hurt South’s ability to develop chemistry on the court, particularly as the Lady War Eagles looked to replace all-state setter Courtney Darling. Olivia Heiser, Hannah McGlockton and Nyah Pacely each took turns throughout the season before South found the right mix.
But cohesion took time, and struggle. South lost four straight matches in late August. It went just 2-5 at the Tournament of Champions in South Carolina in mid-September.
“We went through that period of our season where it seemed like we couldn’t win a [match],” Nugent said.
South found itself when it won a tournament at St. Pius X Catholic High School, defeating eventual Class 3A state champion Westminster in the championship match to go 5-0.
“We just started clicking,” Nugent said, “and everything started coming a lot smoother, and we felt like we were playing as a team.”
And as the biggest matches arrived, Nugent’s play elevated – 34 kills in the Area 5-7A championship against county rival Lambert to lead the Lady War Eagles back from a 2-1 deficit; 22 kills against North Cobb in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A state tournament; 22 more against Walton in South’s state semifinals loss, a rematch of the state championship the previous season.
“Her senior leadership was integral to how well our team performed in the final stretch of the season,” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “She never let her teammates believe that they were anything but great.”
Nugent never envisioned any of the individual honors or team success she experienced at South. She was surprised to make varsity as a freshman. The Lady War Eagles’ large senior class led that season, while Nugent had a modest 99 kills, but it was formidable to her development.
“I had to really fight for playing time, but I got so much better as a player,” Nugent said.
Next year, Nugent will be at a beginning all over again. In November, she signed a scholarship with the University of Montevallo, a Division II program in Alabama. The Falcons will have nine upperclassmen returning next season. Playing time won’t be guaranteed.
After four years at South, Nugent will be undaunted.
“I’ve learned that work ethic is everything,” Nugent said. “You only get what you’re looking for if you work hard for it. You’re not going to get anything given to you. Like [senior] Savian [Jordan] says, they’re not going to give you anything. You’ve got to work for it.
“That’s what I’m going to take away for college. I might not get playing time [right away], but I sure am going to work as hard as I can to get on the court and prove myself there. If I could prove myself here, I can prove myself anywhere.”