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Volleyball: Sophomore hitters hope to propel West back to playoffs
West Forsyth sophomores Lymaris Vasquez, left, and Reece Rhoads both enjoyed highly productive seasons last year as freshmen. - photo by David Roberts

 Reece Rhoads and Lymaris Vasquez were in eighth grade when West Forsyth’s volleyball team launched its improbable run to the Final Four.

The two followed closely as the Wolverines upset top-seeded Grayson in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs, then edged Brookwood and Lassiter 3-2 to reach the semifinals, knowing they’d have a chance to be part of the team the following year.

“It gave me really high hopes, and it made me want to do better,” Vasquez said. “I wanted to come into the program and go past the Final Four. So that’s what I’m striving for, especially this season.”

West’s season ended in the Final Four with a loss to Lassiter, but the team’s deep playoff run left an indelible mark on program’s next generation.

“I think it was really exciting seeing that we were capable of doing that,” Rhoads said. “It was a little bit intimidating, too, feeling like I had to keep that up. This season I feel a lot more confident with it.”

If Rhoads was intimidated as a freshman, it certainly didn’t show on the stat sheet.

Rhoads was tabbed the Area 5-7A Co-Freshman of the Year in 2019, splitting the honor with North Forsyth freshman Nathalia Quintero.

She finished her first varsity senior with 253 kills, a constant threat for the Wolverines from the outside and right side.

Vasquez, also an outsider hitter, had 174 kills as a freshman and led the team with 58 aces, which was the second-highest mark in the area.

“They’ve shown a lot of promise,” West head coach Jake Dickey said. “They’ve been in our feeder program for the last three or four years, and they play club ball yearround, so seeing them progress year by year, you kind of see where you’re at as a program and where they fit in. We expected big things out of them freshman year.”

Still, coming in to a highly competitive program such as West Forsyth as a freshman is no simple task. Being expected to start and perform at a high level on top of that is enough to terrify some.

“The first practice it was very intimidating, but then I felt like I found my place; not so much as a leader, since I was a freshman at the time, but in that sense I found my place and I felt good about where I was,” Vasquez said.

West struggled last year, at least compared to the Wolverines’ banner 2018 season. West went 14-29, finished fourth in Area 5-7A and was swept by Brookwood in the first round of the playoffs.

But the Wolverines have a bit more depth this season, and some more experience among their underclassmen.

“We feel really good. We’re three to four deep at every position,” Dickey said. “So, (against Dawson County), we were able to rotate people and not miss a beat. We actually kind of got better as the night went on. Our practices are very competitive, so that makes it fun.”

In fact, during West’s season-opening win against Dawson County, Rhoads led the team with 11 kills and hit an astounding .417 in a team-high 24 attempts.

A group of four seniors will lead West this season, which includes middle hitter Abby Kingsbury, an Area 5-7A honorable mention a year ago.

“She definitely has a way of kind of bonding with everybody,” Rhoads said of Kingsbury. “On the court, she’s just really controlled and knows what she’s doing.”

Rachel Denard, Skylar James and Grace Cissell are West’s three other seniors.

Karsyn Theobald, Xy Mirasol and Skylar James will serve as the team’s defensive specialists, while Natalie Morris joins Kingsbury at middle hitter and Cayla Cowart will anchor the team’s right side.

Junior setter Carra Sassack committed this summer to play beach volleyball at Florida State, but Dickey said she might not play this season because of an injury she suffered last season.

The Wolverines will look to a combination of Denard, Cissell and Grace Kolacinski to fill the setter position.

Kolacinski was third on the team last year with 64 assists in 32 sets, and Vasquez has seen Kolacinski’s chemistry with the team improve since then.

“Last year she played with us, but she was still on JV, but this year she’s really stepped up and has a lot more confidence when she plays,” Vasquez said. “If she keeps that up, she’ll have a leadership role, for sure.”

Along with cross country and softball, volleyball is among the first Georgia High School Association sports to start what is sure to be an abnormal school year.

“Just the uncertainty of everything, with college football going down,” Dickey said. “GHSA has been quiet for a week or so, so it’s just that eerie feeling; kind of like the calm before the storm. You just have to appreciate every day we’re here. Every game we play could be our last one.”

Rhoads and Vasquez said they tried the best they could to stay in shape during the spring and summer, but it was difficult with many area gyms closed.

After seeing in the spring how quickly a season can end, West hopes to make the most of their season this fall.

“I definitely took it for granted while I had it,” Vasquez said, “but now I take it more seriously, and I take it to heart more.”