Between the electric atmosphere of a playoff game and the absence of a starter, South Forsyth needed time to find its groove. Once that happened, there was no stopping the Lady War Eagles.
After a shaky opening game, No. 6-ranked South cruised to its first state playoff victory since 2007 with a a 3-0 win (25-23, 25-14, 25-13) over Habersham Central in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Thursday at the Eagles’ Nest.
South (33-18 overall) was the only local team to advance, as No. 8 Lambert suffered a 3-1 loss against No. 5 Mill Creek in Hoschton, while Pinecrest Academy was beaten 3-0 by No. 5 George Walton in the Class A playoffs in Monroe.
With No. 2 seed South and No. 3 seed Habersham Central tied 22-22 in the first game, South head coach Kelly Wren called a timeout to calm her team. When the Lady War Eagles took the court again, they won three of the next four points to take the first game without starting outside hitter Hannah Shanley, who was injured in Wednesday’s practice.
"I think they were excited," said Wren, who was voted the 2012 Area 5-AAAAAA Coach of the Year. "I don’t think they were particularly nervous. Last night at practice, one of our starters was injured so she didn’t play today. Coming into this, you could have seen a team that felt uncomfortable that a starter was not going to be on the court.
"Instead, what you saw were 13 girls who were confident in what they had worked on all season long and all of the girls contributed to our win."
The second game was much easier for the Lady War Eagles.
South held just a one point lead before going on a 9-2 run to make the score 15-7. Habersham trimmed the lead to 16-13, but South scored nine of the last 10 points to take a two game advantage.
The Raiders went ahead 2-1 to start Game 3, but that was the last time they held a lead, as the Lady War Eagles rattled off 10 of the next 12 points to give them an 11-4 lead. Habersham scored five of the next eight points, but South went on an 11-4 run to close the game and eliminate the Raiders.
South’s Kelli McCravy led the team with 37 assists and tied teammate Kailey Carr with six digs, while Taylor Svehla tallied 16 kills. Rachel Croce also added seven kills, five digs and five aces.
"Collectively, we work really well together," Svehla said. "It takes each touch of the ball to be able to help me [get a kill]. It takes focus to know what comes next.
"We have to take each game one step at a time. We showed that we can fight and can come back out and keep the momentum."
While some coaches get caught up in specifics and strategies, Wren thinks she has found a way to get the most out of her players.
"We actually just tell them to be athletic," Wren said. "Take what they’ve learned in practice and what they’ve learned playing with each other all season long and just play together – that’s really it. You break it down so much and you try to control everything, and truly it is just let the kids be athletic."
South advances to play Camden County on Tuesday in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.