Lambert Longhorns volleyball coach Missey Hall had it all planned out. She knew already her big gun, outside hitter Ashley Cruise, was out, unavailable with her right foot in a protective boot to help nurse an Achilles injury to health, so Hall adjusted accordingly. She’d submitted her roster just before the start of Thursday’s match in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. Game on.
Except at the last minute – no, the last second – a new twist: starting outside hitter Savannah Beer came to Hall to confess her shoulder wasn’t feeling well enough to hit. Beer had tweaked it in practice Wednesday. A morning of rehab had not been enough to recover. Lambert was down another hitter.
“When I turned my roster in we had one thing,” Hall said. “In the huddle right before we went out we changed everything, basically.”
But the circumstances merely played into an identity Lambert cultivated the latter part of this season, one of a scrappy team equal parts resourceful and resilient. The Lady Longhorns needed to be both in a 28-30, 25-22, 25-9, 25-23 victory against Hillgrove to move on to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in program history.
In Beer and Cruise’s absence, middle hitters Madeleine Bertz and Kendall Spangler seized the moment. Bertz finished with 13 kills, Spangler with 11, and the two ignited Lambert (36-11) in the second set with their imposing block. Setter Kendal Barrett had 30 assists and six kills, while libero Jordyn Moellering had a team-best 23 digs and another kick-save highlight.
“Deep down I knew that the girls were going to come together and we were going to step up and win,” Bertz said.
That was not so certain during the first set. Without Cruise, and with Beer limited to playing two-and-a-half rotations as a defensive specialist, the Lady Longhorns struggled through the first set. By the time a 15-13 lead became a 22-17 deficit, Hall had used both her timeouts. Still, Lambert had chances to win the set at 24-23 and 25-24 but couldn’t.
But Lambert found itself in the second set. Bertz and Spangler began to close on the block. Outside hitter Annie Jones, recently pulled up from junior varsity, began to show more poise, much in part, Hall said, to guidance from Moellering. Barrett started to mix in deft tips in transition.
The Lady Longhorns eschewed deficits and just kept working – back from down 16-13 to take set two, back from down 23-19 in the fourth set to win the next six points and clinch the set and match.
“Our very first mindset was, ‘What are we going to do?’” Bertz said. “And then we all figured out how to come together as a team and really fight back in that second set.”
Lambert discovered its own mettle during the Area 6-AAAAAA tournament. The Lady Longhorns felt nervous then when a state playoff spot hung in the balance of every play. But they fought through the loser’s bracket, fought back against a juggernaut Johns Creek team, fought off the stings of missed postseasons passed.
“Once we made it as far as we did, it clicked,” Bertz said.
If any team was prepared to fight through a surprise dose of adversity to make program history, it was this team.
“To win it like this is the best,” Hall said. “All the credit goes to [the players]. It’s just amazing the way they all stepped up. I’m so proud of them.”