South Forsyth earned its second region championship in a row—and just the second in school history—with a repeat title-tilt victory over its rival, Lambert, Thursday evening at home. Though the path to the crown wasn't as easy as the year before.
South (31-18, 8-0) narrowly avoided losing the match in the fourth set, finding a way to take a 25-23 victory to force a deciding fifth set. In the final 15 points of play, the Lady War Eagles only surrendered nine points and waited out Lambert (27-12, 4-3) errors to survive. The previous four sets were decided by just 14 total points, with Lambert bouncing back from falling 25-20 in the first to taking Set 2 and 3 by scores of 25-22 and 25-21.
“I've got mad respect (for Lambert),” South head coach Kelly Wren said. “I think both teams are so deserving of the region championship. They both fought so hard. We were able to just put it together in the last set. We managed to get it together at the right time.”
It was the second dramatic matchup between South and Lambert in less than 24 hours. The two teams faced off last night in a match that included a 28-26 second set where Lambert won to force one more to decide who would have the bye on championship day.
South's Amanda Nugent was the star of the match on Thursday, registering 30 kills, three aces and a block despite dealing with a nagging injury to her hitting shoulder. She had eight kills alone in the fourth set, with four of them coming down the stretch.
The Lady Longhorns kept things even most of the way thanks to the blocking ability of Madeline Bertz, Kendall Spangler and Kailin Taggart, while freshman Ally Hall continued to look beyond her years from the outside-hitting position. Hall, the daughter of Lambert head coach Missy Hall, had 15 kills in the match, while Amanda Sinning had 11 kills of her own. Bertz finished with six total blocks in the contest.
No matter the results of the final game on Thursday, South and Lambert will host their first state playoff contests as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. For Wren, she hopes the team will peak in the postseason and create the opportunity to make another run at the state championship.
“We didn't start out like this,” Wren said. “Lambert has been good all year, we've had injuries. We still do, but I think we're really starting to come together. There's still things. Shea McNamara is still just scratching the surface of her full potential, and then we have girls who have not gotten reps setting her either, so there's still things to polish moving forward.”
Lambert took down North Forsyth (34-16, 3-2) in the third-place match earlier on Thursday, winning the final two sets 25-19 and 25-21 after falling 25-20 in the first. Hall had 10 kills in that match, while Sinning had eight and Kendal Barrett had eight as well. Bri Gilbert led North with 11 kills.
The Lady Raiders defeated West Forsyth and Milton on Wednesday to advance to the final day of the tournament and will be a No. 3 seed, while Milton takes the fourth and final slot in the state playoffs.
It's still, by many sets of numbers, the best season in North's history under first-year coaching duo Drew and Kelly Cecil. Drew thought the team found its belonging during the tournament, especially after they bounced back from a surprising set loss to Milton in the fourth-place game Wednesday night.
“I think the girls kind of let off after qualifying for state, but then they realized, 'hey, we can be better than just making it to state. They really turned it back on and competed.”