Annie Veldhuis couldn’t help but get ahead of herself.
She and the rest of West Forsyth’s volleyball team were standing toe-to-toe against Lassiter, a squad that had lost just five times before Saturday afternoon. Yet, there the Wolverines were in the state quarterfinals, a team that had entered the state tournament by a slim margin as a No. 4 seed.
Whenever the Trojans seemed like they were about to pull ahead and make it their match to lose, West almost always struck back. Even as an underdog, Veldhuis had to fight back the early thoughts of victory.
“I felt like every time I did think that, we went back down,” she said. “So I was like, ‘OK, just focus on every point. I should stop jinxing it.’”
Staying in the moment has worked for the Wolverines during their playoff run over the last few weeks, and on Saturday, their present-moment, carefree mentality propelled them once again, this time to a thrilling five-set upset win over Lassiter, 15-25, 26-24, 25-23,17-25, 16-14.
The victory puts West’s volleyball team in the Final Four for the first time in school history. They’ll face either Milton or Etowah next week for a spot in the Class 7A state championship match.
“They believe in each other,” West Forsyth head coach Jake Dickey said. “They were telling me in practice and I kept telling them, ‘We can win this thing.’ You could tell by looking at some of those faces that they really believed that they could beat them.”
It didn’t look that way early on, though. Lassiter began the first set by taking a 12-3 lead, with the Wolverines getting off to a rough start with plenty of mistakes. From that point, West began to show signs of things to come, going on a 9-1 run to narrow the gap to 13-12 before the Trojans rattled off a 7-0 run on their way to a 1-0 lead.
The second set turned out to be the match’s turning point, even as Lassiter began it with a 7-2 advantage. West scored just enough to stay in range, and with a 7-1 run, the Wolverines began to close in, eventually tying the set at 22-22. West’s solid defensive play, paired with three Lassiter balls hit out of bounds down the stretch, led to a 24-24 tie. After getting one of the two points needed to secure the set, Veldhuis notched the winning kill with a well-placed floater to the corner.
“I was really just trying to keep it in play,” Veldhuis said. “I knew that if I really tried to kill it, it wouldn’t have gone my way.”
With the match tied 1-1, West again found itself down for most of the third set, but scored just enough to stay competetive. Eight straight points for the Wolverines gave them a 23-20 lead, and after a misplayed ball on the set point, West held a 2-1 lead over the Trojans.
West couldn't secure the victory in the fourth set, with misplayed passes and a foot fault contributing. The game went to a decisive fifth set, and after being down 3-1, West tied it at 9-9 and at 14-14. After two straight West kills, including one by Veldhuis, the Wolverines launched into celebration.
“It was crazy that we were able to pull ourselves up and really work together,” Veldhuis said. “Everyone kept each other’s energy up whenever someone started getting down.”
With a thrilling win against North in the region tournament to make the playoffs and 3-2 wins in the last two rounds, West has already reached a goal that was once unthinkable. Now, they're just hoping their attitude can drive them even further than that.
"We really just want it so bad," Veldhuis said. "It’s so exciting to do it. Now we have a chance."