South Forsyth's Allie Magers gave setter Ansley Davis a kiss on the forehead after assisting on a kill late in the second set of a match Thursday at East Forsyth.
Never mind that the War Eagles had dropped the first set to the Broncos, ninth-ranked South Forsyth remained confident that it would find a way to outlast its scrappy host. Following the show of affection, the War Eagles won the next three points to capture the set.
Magers, of course, provided the decisive kill, opting to just blow a kiss to Davis this time.
A back-and-forth third set wound up falling in favor of South Forsyth, as the visitors rallied from a three-point deficit to secure the 21-25, 25-18, 16-14 victory.
“We just kept our composure,” War Eagles head coach Steffi Legall-Riddle said. “We have to still learn how to win. We have some injuries, and we’re struggling at times. When we’ve struggled in the past, we broke apart a little bit. Today, I was really proud of the girls to show some resilience and work their own way back in that second set.”
After the thrilling start to the night, the War Eagles and Broncos produced rather comprehensive sweeps of West Hall to close out the tri-match. South Forsyth won its matchup by a 25-13, 25-14 final, and East Forsyth overcame a slow start for a resounding 25-17, 25-7 win.
“We had some players who I consider more role players, and they had an opportunity to show what they can do,” Legall-Riddle said of the West Hall match. “They practice hard every day and make us better in practice, so it’s a nice way to give them opportunities to play.”
Even still, the match of the night proved to be the exhilarating battle between the War Eagles and Broncos.
During a nip-and-tuck first set, South Forsyth (11-10) looked to be pulling away late, as the War Eagles worked their way into a 21-17 lead. However, the Broncos (10-15) reeled off eight straight points to stun the visitors.
East Forsyth carried that momentum into the second set by scoring the first five points in pursuit of a sweep.
“We really worked on trying to get the tough serves on them, so that we could get them out of system a little bit more and do a better job of predicting where they are going to put the ball,” Broncos head coach Chris James said. “That really helped us.”
After the slow start, South Forsyth slowly began to work its way back into the match.
A pair of key tips by middle hitter Allie Magers cut the War Eagles' deficit to three points at 7-4 and 11-8. A team block tied the match at 13-all.
An eventual 5-0 run by South Forsyth put the visitors up 20-15 and forced a timeout by James. East Forsyth's top offensive weapon, Emily Moilen, who recorded 21 kills across both matches, responded with a kill and a block to pull the hosts back within three points.
The Davis-to-Magers connection, though, came through with their clutch plays at the end of the set to force a decisive third.
“We were able to involve our middle attackers Allie Magers and Abigail Malone,” Legall-Riddle said. “They did a nice job in the middle, and they got some kills. That changed the momentum.”
Neither side led by more than three points during the winner-take-all set, but the Broncos did hold the lead the majority of the way.
Trailing 12-10, the War Eagles went on a 4-0 run to regain control. East Forsyth managed to even the score at 14-apiece only to see South Forsyth record back-to-back points to secure the win.
“We shot ourselves in the foot there towards the end,” James said. “We had the lead, and then they called timeout. We came out and had like four or five errors out of the timeout.
“They’re a great team, and they put the pressure on us. They have some really nice players over there to pressure on us, and we didn’t really rise to the occasion.”
While James felt like his team let a chance to beat a top-10 Class 7A side slip away, Legall-Riddle praised her counterpart. Less than two weeks ago, the War Eagles swept the Broncos in the All-City Playdate.
“That team has gotten better just from when we saw them a couple of weeks ago,” Legall-Riddle said. “Credit to coach James for what he’s been doing with them.”
The results haven't always been there for East Forsyth, particularly since a strong 7-2 start to the season, but James believes his team is benefitting from playing a challenging schedule.
Having now played seven matches against current top-10 teams, including two meetings each with 7A programs South Forsyth and Woodstock, the Broncos are putting themselves in position to compete for a postseason berth.
“Every once in a while, it’s OK to get your butt kicked,” James said. “It’s how you come back after that that is really important. That’s what it teaches us when we’re playing these tough teams. … It drives a little bit of toughness towards the end of the season.”