Even as the Lambert volleyball team confronted the end of its season after losing 25-16, 25-14, 25-14 to Walton in the state quarterfinals on Saturday, the Longhorns’ mood wasn’t somber. It couldn’t be. They smiled as head coach Missey Hall spoke in the pregame huddle, and the players all gathered for another group embrace afterwards.
Unlike past years, when the eight state quarterfinals teams were reseeded after the second round, volleyball teams now follow the bracket straight through. That certainly worked to the Longhorns’ detriment, as Walton is 39-3, is stacked with more than a lineup’s worth of Division I commits, and hasn’t lost a set to an in-state opponent this season.
But Lambert has matched up with the Raiders as well as any Georgia school this season. Back in the All-City Play Date tournament at South Forsyth on Aug. 25, the Longhorns fell in two sets but pushed Walton to 26 points in one. And while Saturday’s game wasn’t as close – the loss of star junior Ally Hall to a torn ACL didn’t help Lambert’s chance – the Longhorns still matched up well with the Raiders at multiple points through the game.
“Energy really can lead a game to a victory,” Lambert sophomore Bella Tolone said. “Even though we would be down a couple points, our energy would still be up at a high level and match theirs, or even be above them sometimes.”
The beginnings of sets were the kindest to Lambert. The Longhorns served aggressively to try to get Walton out of system and looked for opportunities when outside hitter Gabby Gonzales, an Ohio State commit, was on the back row. Lambert had the first set tied at 11-11, the second tied at 12-12, and trailed 14-10 midway through the third.
“We were working a lot on serving the seams in between players,” Longhorns head coach Missey Hall said. “We were knew who we were going to serve, and it worked really well, for a while there.”
The Longhorns, who finished the season at 33-10, reached at least the state quarterfinals for the third straight years. This season might have been the most trying of that bunch, with the injury to Hall, the loss of setter Claire Mathauer to sickness and many other dings and dents, which was a main reason for the positive mood on Saturday.
“I just love that these kids aren’t ever intimidated,” Hall said. “They go in and play the game, they execute the best that they can. They’re still pretty young, and we’ve thrown a lot of different lineups, with the injuries we’ve had, and they’ve been able to overcome everything they had so far. So Elite Eight, considering, everything we’ve been through? I’m really proud of them.”