Senior outside hitters Natalie Lucco and Paige Horton were the difference for Etowah's volleyball team Tuesday night, logging 14 kills a piece, in a 3-0 sweep of Lambert in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
Etowah (39-10) won a decisive first set 25-14 before the Lady Longhorns (35-11) took a deep breath, re-calibrated, and battled with the Lady Eagles through sets two and three. In Set 3, Lambert held a 22-20 advantage, but Lucco and middle hitter Nicole Ferris helped Etowah battle back, eventually winning the match with a 26-24 decision.
Lambert head coach Missy Hall felt like her team failed to play to its strengths until it was too late, but still got production from a healthier Ashley Cruise, who registered seven kills after playing recent matches with a tender Achilles, and eight kills from Sarah Thierer.
While the season ended, Hall has a unique situation on her hand—her team, ranked No. 8 in the state heading into the match (Etowah was ranked No. 10) by MaxPreps.com, will return the entire lot next season. She has no seniors on the roster.
“We're young,” Hall said. “They exceeded expectations this season. It's a good thing for them. They've been here now, but this should have stung, and when we come back in August this will stick in the back of their head. Hopefully it motivates them.”
For Etowah head coach Kim Robertson, Tuesday's victory sends her squad to the Elite 8 of the state tournament for the second time in her eight-year tenure at the school.
“I have a bunch of seniors and girls that have played together for a long time, and their mentality is to win a state championship,” Robertson said. “It's important for them, a lot of them have played for years in club ball and high school ball. I think this was one of the best matches we played this season.”
Etowah jumped out to a 16-7 lead in Set 1, thanks to six kills and a block point from Horton. After Lambert was seemingly overwhelmed by the firepower on the edges, Hall rallied her team going into Set 2.
An emotional lift prompted Lambert to come back from a 6-1 deficit in the second set and keep things close at 13-13 and 16-16 at consecutive timeouts, but consecutive aces from Jessie Cohen helped Etowah pull away.
In the third set the Longhorns were on par, even taking an 11-7 lead into the first timeout, and eventually leading by two with three points to go, but it was “too little, too late.”
“Historically we are a slow starting team. When we get on the big stage, sometimes we disappear a little bit and our big players did not show what they are capable tonight unfortunately,” Hall said. “Our strengths are serving blocking and hitting, but our hitters had a rough night. Give credit to Etowah because they scouted perfectly.”