Another contest against Walton. Another contest fallen short.
Still, South Forsyth took another step in its monumental climb up the state volleyball ranks by getting its first set win against Walton—winners of four of the last five state championships in the highest classification—Wednesday night on the road.
The Lady War Eagles won Set 2, 25-23, to take momentum into intermission, but the dominance of the Lady Raiders (38-6) returned in the form of decisive sets as they took the match 3-1 (25-13, 23-25, 25-16, 25-15) and advanced to the state championship, which will be Saturday afternoon against Lassiter at Marietta High School.
Heading into the match South (34-19) was 0-15 in set tries against head coach Suzanne Fitzgerald's dominant program, including an 0-3 mark last year in the state final. It appeared things were heading in that direction again early in the match, as Walton's Gabby Gonzales (an Ohio State commit) and Riley Spurlin showed off powerful hitting that seemed impossible to stop.
But the Lady War Eagles adjusted after falling 25-13 in Set 1 by backing up on the points where Walton's hitters were attacking and absorbing the blows, quite literally. Those adjustments frustrated Walton and led to opportune relays by South. Senior Amanda Nugent shined in Set 2 with eight kills, while Avery Kline had three blocks and five total points and Lily Kincaid added three kills. South led Set 2 as much as 20-14 before holding on against one last effort by the Lady Raiders.
For South head coach Kelly Wren the set reassured that South, which could arguably have two state championships if Walton didn't exist, has continued to set the bar high.
“We took a step,” Wren said. “We actually started very slow this season, but we came back and I think ended up once again becoming one of the best teams in the classification and in the state.”
South will need to reload if it wants to make it back into the championship bracket next season, but Wren can cite history and feel confident about the team's chances. Starters from this year that will be back include Kline and Hannah McGlockton.
“In the 2008 we started this program, we had a group of girls take us deep into state in their senior year, and after that I thought to myself I wasn't sure if we'd ever get back. Then this group of girls did, and we have a culture built now. Girls who play volleyball here are proud to play here, and you don't see that at a lot of high school programs. I don't know what the team will look like next year but I know they will have the same effort and work ethic as these girls have had.”
Moving on from South's program is a stellar core that includes Nugent, Kincaid, defensive setter Savian Jordan, libero Erin Yeatman, middle hitter Shea McNamara and outside hitter Sarah Stoneking. All had experience in last year's state title match and were laser-focused on getting back to the final or, by chance, running into Walton in the postseason and earning a win.
“I think they are an amaazing group of girls,” Wren said. “Many of them have played together since the sixth grade. They built something special here. You always see them picking eachother up, having fun, but also they all had a drive to win and compete.”