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West volleyball, cross-country teams getting cranked up

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

High school athletics have been ground to a halt since mid-March because of COVID-19 concerns. And although teams have been able to do small workouts throughout the summer while following protocols, practice starts in earnest on Nov. 4 at West Forsyth for its volleyball and cross-country teams.

Normally, teams would’ve long-since started their seasons, with most fall sports starting practice in early August, and finishing sometime in October, November, or in the case of the NCHSAA playoffs, mid-December. But with COVID concerns, the NCHSAA decided to move around many of its sports, pushing many of them to after the New Year. The NCHSAA deemed that volleyball and boys and girls cross country were the safest sports to attempt to play. In addition, coaches in all sports are having to deal with the challenges of online learning instead of being in class.

Even with that, the volleyball team hasn’t played since losing to Charlotte Ardrey Kell 3-0 on Nov. 2 in Clemmons of last year in the NCHSAA Class 4-A quarterfinals. As for cross country, it finished a week later at Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville at the NCHSAA Class 4-A state cross-country championships. The West Forsyth girls finished runner-up to Wilmington Hoggard and the West Forsyth boys finished ninth.

Games and meets are scheduled to start Nov. 16 with compressed schedules.

The West Forsyth volleyball team had its most successful season ever last year after finishing 24-5 and 9-1 in the Central Piedmont 4-A. And although the Titans lost four key players — Brenna Weyant, Taryn Pryce, Jacque Webber and Madie Lichty — Coach Lauren Gillon has seven seniors for the 2020-21 season who gained valuable experience last year.

“Kind of going off of a bunch of success last year, some of those kids that are seniors this year were juniors last year that played on such a successful team,” Gillon said. “So I think just using their maturity and experience from being successful and translating that into a new season with a new group kind of is going help build maybe a lit more competitive winning culture within the program because they’re able to guide those younger players, and kind of show them what it means to be competitive.”

After defeating Davie County 3-1 in the championship of the Central Piedmont 4-A tournament last year, West Forsyth was the top seed from the conference in the NCHSAA Class 4-A playoffs and received a first-round bye. The Titans cruised past Greensboro Page and Cornelius Hough before losing to Ardrey Kell.

The Titans have had to sit on that loss for more than a year and hope to use that as motivation this season.

“It was tough, but at the end of the day it is a game of wins and losses,” Gillon said. “Ardrey Kell beat us outright. They were peaking at the right time. They had hitters that played out of their minds, and hadn’t played like that all season. And they were coming off a big win, beating (Charlotte) Providence.

“You know, I think as a group we reached our full potential and Ardrey Kell was better on that night, So it was hard to swallow, nobody likes to losing, but at the end of the day I was also very proud of the group and what they had overcome and accomplished, and just how much they had gleaned from the very beginning to the end. It was like a full process, starting back in (last) July when we went to team at N.C. State, all the way to end of October.”

Although much has changed since year, especially having to navigate through COVID since March, Gillon is trying to prepare for what it hopes is a 14-game regular-season schedule, and hopefully another berth into the state playoffs.

“You have to stay in contact with them, you have to check on them, you have to make sure they’re taking into account their families, their situations, and just kind of trying to get the kids to remember that this whole situation is still bigger than them,” Gillon said. “This whole situation, and a pandemic, rules and regulations. It’s way bigger than all of us.”

Despite the concerns, the Titans are just happy about the prospects of a new season. West Forsyth should be in a tight battle for conference supremacy with Davie County, Reagan and East Forsyth.

“I think at any given point, it could really be anybody’s game,” Gillon said. “So we really haven’t looked at it in that perspective. We’re just taking it one day at a time and one week at a time. Hopefully we get to have some success at the end. We just don’t know when it’s going to end.”

Coach Nathan Newsome, who is the boys and girls cross-country coach at West Forsyth, has also been navigating his way through the same issues. Newsome is starting his second year as the coach for both the boys and girls after former boys coach Jeff Thompson retired and moved to Maryland last year.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “We have pretty stringent guidelines we’re supposed to follow, and we followed them as we should. We had the kids do as much as they could on their own. When we were able to start meeting them to work out, we starting doing that some too.

“So I think we’re season-appropriate as far as fitness and condition for what would typically be about the beginning of August probably where we’re at at now, maybe middle of August.”

In a normal season, cross country would be in the home stretch. Last season’s state championship was Nov. 9 in Kernersville.

“We’re glad we’re back in the swing of things. We’re glad we’re getting s season,” Newsome said.

The Titans’ girls have had plenty of success the last three seasons. After finishing third in the NCHSAA Class 4-A state championship in 2017, the Titans have finished runner-up the past two seasons. Last season, West Forsyth finished 21 points behind Hoggard for the state title.

In addition, now-senior Kendall Phillips finished seventh at 18:55.41 and current sophomore Eliza Broke finished 11th at 19:06.42.

“We were 30 seconds from winning,” Newsome said. “If everybody’s back healthy, that’s always hard, You never know who’s going to show up with a stress fracture, or get sick or whatever. But we have more depth. I think our team is deeper than any other team in 4-A. I’m optimistic, but anything can happen. We’ll just do the best we can and hope for the best.”

The Titan boys haven’t been as successful, but they should still be formidable in the Central Piedmont 4-A, as well as the regional and state meets in January. West Forsyth was top area finisher in last year’s Class 4-A state championship with 197 points, 129 behind winner Raleigh Broughton. However, Drew Okon, who was the highest finisher from Forsyth County in 21st at 16:28.61, graduated.

“It’ll be more depth on the boys side,” Newsome said. “We’ll have to end up seeing who’s your fourth and fifth and sixth runners.”