By McClain Baxley
For the Forsyth County News
Ahead of South Forsyth’s season opener on Wednesday night, the War Eagles had a dance session in the locker room. Led by seniors Olivia Grady, the home team bonded and prepared themselves for a visiting Hillgrove team.
The War Eagles may have gotten ahead of themselves, with the Hawks shooting out to a six point lead. Any time South would cut into that lead, Hillgrove had a response.
With a 16-10 advantage, Hillgrove called a timeout. Coming out of it, the War Eagles went on an 8-3 run to force another timeout from Hillgrove.
“(Hillgrove was) totally in rhythm in the first set,” South head coach Steffi Legall-Riddle said. “We didn't let that get to us and I liked how we took it upon ourselves to settle down. Our serving became a little more difficult. We just kept fighting.”
South won the next six of the next seven points to take the first set, 25-20, and didn’t look back the rest of the night, sweeping the Hawks 3-0 to improve to 1-0 on the season.
“Anytime you come back and end up winning that set (when) we were back by six or seven points, we had to finish the set,” Legall-Riddle said. “They carried that over.”
The second set was completely different for the War Eagles, who quickly jumped out to a 6-3 lead. Junior Avery Svehla hit several soft lobs that the Hawks had no answer for.
In the blink of an eye, South was up 13-6 and the gym was buzzing. On the same side of the court as South’s bench was their student section, who didn’t hold back from the second set on.
“The guys were so loud,” Legall-Riddle said. “That pumps the kids up. The girls know they’re playing in front of their friends and in front of their families. It brings energy and volleyball is all about energy.”
The War Eagles used that energy to down the Hawks 25-9 in the second set, and in the third, it looked like the Hawks had woken up. Both teams went back and forth, neither side being able to work more than a one point lead.
Finally, after bearing down the strong setting of Hillgrove, South broke through to a 7-5 lead.
“It pushed us and gave us the enthusiasm and just made us confident,” Grady said. “Once we got back a little bit, we got really confident and were able to fully go out there.”
Once South took the lead, it didn't look back. The crowd continued to force Hillgrove into unforced errors and South was winning all of the long rally points.
With freshmen like Claire Jenkins and juniors like Svehla continuing to contribute to South’s goals, the home team had just about everything they wanted in the second and third sets.
As a senior leader, Grady took it upon herself to make sure the team worked well together.
“I had a talk with them and told them no drama, so hopefully there’s none of that,” she said. “We all clicked as a team. It was a really good vibe out there.”
With the first match out of the way, the Legall-Riddle and the War Eagles want to continue the chemistry on and off the court.
“Olivia is one of our senior leaders, but we got contributions from every player,” she said. “That's what I like to see. We aren't going to be a one-person-does-it kind of team.”