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2020 VOLLEYBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bella Tolone, Lambert
Bella Tolone
Lambert senior Bella Tolone led the Longhorns to the Final Four behind 378 kills, averaging 4.3 kills per set and hitting .286. Photo by Mitchell Martin

Volleyball is Bella Tolone's escape. 

It's a space where she can vent any frustration she might have.

"Hitting a ball as hard as you can is pretty nice," Tolone said. "You get pissed off at a point or something and you're like, 'I'm going to smash this ball in their face.'"

She did that plenty during the 2020 season — 378 times to be exact.

Tolone, the 2020 Forsyth County News Player of the Year, averaged 4.3 kills per set this season for a Lambert team that advanced the Class 7A Final Four.

Equally impressive was Tolone's versatility. 

In addition to her hitting duties, Tolone also handled setting for the Longhorns and finished with 350 assists. Her 287 digs placed her second on the team in the category, and she also emerged as one of Lambert's top serving threats, finishing with 30 aces and a 94 percent serving percentage.

"I liked it a lot. Ever since I was younger, I always played many different positions — like I never had one set thing," Tolone said. "So, growing up, I always had the skillset of every position. When my coach put me in a different position than I would normally play in club or something, I was OK with it and I was used to it. I was used to moving around different positions and stuff. I loved it."

While she had rarely, if ever, set before, Tolone said she used to practice setting all the time when she was younger.

Tolone, who is an outside hitter/defensive specialist for her club volleyball team, always knew she wanted to play in college, but it wasn't until recently that she knew where.

Tolone thought she had her recruitment wrapped up last year after she committed to The Citadel (S.C) in Aug. 2019.

Bella Tolone
"Hitting a ball as hard as you can is pretty nice," Tolone said. "You get pissed off at a point or something and you're like, 'I'm going to smash this ball in their face.'" Photo by Mitchell Martin
But the more Tolone thought about playing collegiate volleyball, the more she began to desire a more normal college experience as opposed to The Citadel's stringent military background. 

So Tolone decommitted and decided to open her recruitment.

"Recruitment starts really early for players, so 2021 for colleges was mostly filled," she said. "So it was really hard for me to find colleges, even though they were like, 'I want you on my roster. We just don't have the space.'"

Ultimately, though, the Furman University (S.C.) coaching staff reached out and expressed their desire to add Tolone to their 2021 recruiting class.

Tolone is one of two Georgia players signed by the Paladins, joining Walton right side Chandler Parker.

The two players nearly came face to face in the Class 7A championship this season. Alpharetta beat Lambert 3-2 in the semifinals, then topped Walton 3-1 in the title game.

Lambert came roaring back after dropping the first two sets against Alpharetta, winning 25-18 and 25-14 before falling in a fifth-set tiebreaker. 

Tolone hammered a match-high 18 kills and chipped in 22 assists despite the loss.

"Even though it was a tough game, we had two starters that were out because of contact tracing and we still played with all we could give — just heart. We played with heart," Tolone said. "Our coach was so happy with it, and there were many tears after the game. It wasn't necessarily sad, it was more like we were so proud of what we could accomplish that year."

Tolone was in the stands when Alpharetta beat Walton in the state championship game. 

"It was nice to be like, 'OK, that could have been us,'" Tolone said. "But I'm still happy that if we were beaten, it was by a championship-winning team."