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West Forsyth starts volleyball season with loss to East

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

After all the success the West Forsyth volleyball team had last season reaching the NCHSAA Class 4-A quarterfinals, there was much anticipation about the start of a new season.

The season was delayed because of COVID-19 with the season starting for the Titans last Tuesday. All of the excitement about a new season was thwarted after two Central Piedmont 4-A conference losses to East Forsyth, followed by another loss at conference-foe Davie County last Thursday.

“(Last) Tuesday felt great. I had a lot of excitement and anxiousness,” Coach Lauren Gillon of West Forsyth said. “It had been so long since even coaching a competitive volleyball match. It was exciting and nerve-wracking all in one.”

After not playing a competitive match since last November, losing to Charlotte Ardrey Kell in the NCHSAA Class 4-A quarterfinals in Clemmons, West Forsyth lost the first set 25-23, giving East Forsyth a 1-0 lead.

West Forsyth quickly bounced back, knotting the score at 1-1 after winning the second set 25-21.

“I think the first set both teams were working through some nerves and figuring out how to settle in,” Gillon said. “In the second set I felt we were starting to find our groove and was starting to settle in, then we had to make a massive sub due to our starting setter going down with a knee injury.

The injury Gillon was referring to is senior Leila Landrum, who hurt her knee during the first set against East Forsyth after celebrating following a solo block of Kaydence Booth of East Forsyth.

“We have been ready to pull our JV sophomore setter up this season to train with varsity and be a backup, however she was not at the game on (last) Tuesday. So we put in sophomore Kennedy Weber to set,” Gillon said. “She is one of the most athletic kids on the team, so I knew she could handle the pressure and provide some consistency for the team in that moment. She did a fabulous job. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from her or the team during that change.”

The Eagles regained the lead after winning the third set 25-23, but the Titans came back to knot it at 2-all after winning the fourth set 25-18. The momentum after winning the fourth set wasn’t enough and the Eagles clinched the match by winning the fifth set 15-12.

“With the major substitution in the second set, we regrouped and came up with a modified game plan,” Gillon said. “The team rallied held each other up to push through to a win in the second set and the fourth. In the fifth set we struggled in serve receive a little early on, and struggled to win those mini games to 5.”

After falling to East Forsyth at home, Gillon decided to call up Haley Hanes from JV at practice last Wednesday to use in addition to Weber since Landrum hurt her knee. Gillon also changed from a 5-1 lineup to a 4-2 with two sophomores setting.

“Both are phenomenal athletes and rose the occasion and did the job that was needed,” Gillon said. “We need work as a team making some small adjustments in and focusing on our mindset.”

West Forsyth didn’t have long to adjust because it had to travel to Mocksville last Thursday to play a tough Davie County team. Things got no better for the Titans against the War Eagles. The War Eagles took a commanding 2-0 lead after winning the first two sets 25-11 and 25-12. The Titans made it closer in the third set, but the War Eagles won 25-22 to sweep the match to send the Titans to 0-2 overall and 0-2 in the conference after only losing one conference match all season last year, to East Forsyth.

“We definitely did not display the intensity and togetherness that we showed on (last) Tuesday night,” Gillon said of the loss to Davie. “We struggled in all aspects of the game. I think with such a big line up change with our starting setter out, we couldn’t find one thing that was a constant for us and struggled in making anything consistent or getting in a rhythm.”

Gillon said the Titans would work on several things during practice Friday before playing a conference home game against Reynolds on Monday and a conference road game at Reagan on Tuesday. In addition, school is out Wednesday-Sunday for Thanksgiving break.

“There wasn’t one tangible aspect of the game that we couldn’t handle or wasn’t capable of, it was a mentality and mind shift,” she said.

West Forsyth is dealing with the same things that every other school in North Carolina is dealing with. Because of the condensed schedule most teams are playing conference games. Teams in the NCHSAA are allowed to play up to 14 games with a maximum of two per week. The Titans are playing 10 straight conference games before a tri-match on Dec. 30 at West Rowan.

“I do wish that we started with some nonconference matches and scrimmages. Our scrimmage with Mount Tabor got canceled last Thursday (week before last) due to weather,” Gillon said. In a traditional season we would have two scrimmages and around five nonconference matches before playing our conference schedule.”

Another issue has cropped up for volleyball teams in North Carolina — the use of a mask. Commissioner Que Tucker of the NCHSAA announced earlier this month that all players, coaches and the limited fans allowed in for games are mandated to wear a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

(The use of a mask) causes miscommunication errors, trouble breathing at times,” Gillon said. “Volleyball is very much an aerobic sport requiring quick bursts of intense movements combined with long rallies. The mask has just caused more frustration throughout those big plays, it’s more taxing on the body.”