It's about quality, not quantity for South Forsyth's volleyball team.
So when the War Eagles opened area play against Denmark on Thursday, it marked just their ninth match of the season. Save for a pair of matches last week against Norcross and Lassiter, South hadn't played a live match since Aug. 18.
It hardly showed.
South breezed past Denmark in its area opener, welcoming the Danes to the newly formed Area 6-7A with a 3-0 sweep. South won 25-15, 25-14, 25-15.
"We didn't play that many games in preseason, but we played against some tough opponents, and that's really helped us," South head coach Steffi Legall-Riddle said. "It's helped us in our video sessions to point out some things and be able to teach the game a little bit more. I think that was the advantage that we had today. I don't think that we're necessarily more athletic than Denmark, but you could see that we have a pretty high volleyball IQ."
South (5-4, 1-0 Area 6-7A), ranked No. 8 in the latest Class 7A volleyball poll, used the time away to work on technique and focus on its weaknesses.
"We had matches canceled. Honestly, I wasn't chasing makeup matches, for the safety of our players," Legall-Riddle said "We also had two middle blockers that we graduated, so we have four new middle blockers on our team now that have never really played middle at any kind of a level. They're not club players, so they don't have the reps outside of high school. So, I felt that practice was really going to pay off for us, to teach the sport and teach the game."
Denmark (9-6, 0-1 Area 6-7A) struggled to find much of a rhythm on offense against South, despite strong performances from sophomore Dominae Jordan and Ella Collier.
"We're the only school to jump from 4A to 7A. Not only are we only in our third year, but jumping to 7A is huge," Denmark head coach Jaime Maxey said. "At one point tonight, we had all 10th-graders on the court. It's a young team and they're learning a lot. They haven't had an opportunity to compete in an environment like this yet, and I think that showed. We played timid, we played scared, we weren't aggressive and we didn't compete. South has some very good players; they're older, they're experienced and every single kid that got on that court competed tonight."
South used that experience to pull away from Denmark in the second set Thursday. Clinging to 15-14 lead, the War Eagles took the next 10 points, punctuated by a trio of aces by setter Claire Jenkins, to win 25-14.
Senior Brinley Bramwell led South with 13 kills, while fellow senior Avery Svehla chipped in 11. Phoebe Dean had 13 kills and Jenkins finished with 11. Gabriela Conde Borres tallied a team-high 12 digs.
One point of emphasis for South this season is the development of its middle blockers. Katie Jacobson and Olivia Grady both graduated, so the War Eagles have featured a mix of Ava McGlockton and Allie Magers.
"Our middle blockers have come so far in just these last three weeks that we've playing," Legall-Riddle said. "In understanding their role, knowing where to go when the ball is being set, their footwork — we've just really tried to encourage the transition game. One of them had a kill today, and you could tell because the girls get so fired up for them, because we've been practicing that so much. When you have inexperience, in terms of just the speed of the game, I felt like practice was just so important for us."
Where South looks at the middle blocker position and sees room for improvement, Maxey sees the position as one of the Danes' strengths. Junior Ella Collier had 132 blocks last season, which was the most in Class 4A.
"I think a lot of people are obviously intimidated by her height. At 6-foot-4, they're like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Maxey said. "Her role has also grown a lot. Last year, we focused a lot on blocking with her. She did very well — she led the state in total blocks. This year, we're trying to focus on her speed transition and getting her in our hitting rotation. So, she's grown a lot, and she's still young, but she has a lot to offer our program."
Denmark won just three games as a first-year program in 2018, then won 14 last year. About halfway through the season, the Danes are primed to surpass that total in 2020.
"We've grown a lot since Year 1," Maxey said. "Again, the kids who are on the court consistently are still very, very young for us. We did have a strong preseason and we learned a lot and grew a lot as a team. We're excited to compete in region, but we have a lot of work to do. It's a big jump for a lot of these kids."
Denmark will play this weekend at the 2020 Varsity Georgia Challenge tournament, while South will travel to West at 6 p.m. Tuesday.