Down by five and already trailing one set to none, Lambert junior setter Kendal Barrett’s serve sailed over the net, plunged to the ground and West Forsyth’s back row could only flail as the ball fell in. Then, she did it again. And again. And in that brief burst of mastery, Lambert volleyball found something its opponent couldn’t thwart, not with a sudden timeout by West couldn’t, nor with two offensive attacks by the Lady Wolverines.
No, the Lady Longhorns were injected by Barrett’s three consecutive aces with the sureness it needed to finish off the second set and carry on into the third for a 20-25, 25-23, 25-18 victory Tuesday at home in a crucial county and Area 6-AAAAAA match.
When Lambert (12-3, 2-1) dropped a close first set, Lady Longhorns head coach Missey Hall started to worry. Lambert had struggled in home matches last season. Was this a harbinger of more home-court woes for 2015? The Lady Longhorns had gotten off to strong starts in matches all season. Had her team not come mentally prepared?
“We had peaks of greatness, but then we couldn’t maintain it,” Hall said.
Only at its most desperate – after Hall needed two timeouts and Lambert fell behind 23-18 – did Lambert respond. Or Barrett, that is. Her three straight aces brought Lambert within 23-22 and prompted West head coach Jake Dickey to call a timeout. The Lady Longhorns then took a 24-23 lead on two straight blocks from Madeleine Bertz. Barrett finished off the set with in the most fitting fashion: an ace.
From there, Lambert cruised with relative ease, its lead gradually stretching in the third set from 9-8 to 15-9 then 20-13. West had one swift run in it with kills from Taylor Ashcraft and Jaz Berry to pull within 20-16, but Hall called a timeout and Lambert regrouped: a kill and block from Bertz, two kills from Ashley Cruise and the Lady Longhorns clinched the match.
But it all started with Barrett’s service in that second set.
“It was absolutely huge,” Hall said, “but they felt like they could do it. … I’m proud of them, though, they fought back, which is great.”
Barrett finished with 20 assists and her four aces, while Bertz added six kills to her crucial blocks. Cruise led Lambert with 12 kills, Jordyn Moellering had 18 digs and Sissy Allen added 13 digs.
West (16-8, 3-2), meanwhile, managed to remain competitive despite playing without standout hitter Chloe Lance. The junior sat on the bench with crutches and her right foot wrapped to protect stitches. Dickey and the Lady Wolverines found out just the day before they’d be without Lance, who is expected to miss 12 matches over 10 days.
“It was a big mental thing, I guess,” Dickey said. “But with that being said, we had a chance right there in the second set to close it out, but just didn’t get a pass off. Got blocked a couple times. It all went downhill after that.”
West rebounded in the tri-match with a tough 29-27, 22-25, 25-21 victory against Alpharetta, boosted by the play of the veterans Ashcraft (24 kills, 18 digs), Jordan Leitch (43 assists, 11 digs) and Hannah Owens (eight kills).
“We’ll fight through,” Dickey said.