Welcome back, Taylor Nelson.
Lambert's junior outside hitter fought through a knee injury, returning Thursday in time to lead Lambert to a 3-0 win over North Forsyth in the Area 6-7A championship.
Against West Forsyth on Wednesday, it took the Longhorns the better part of a set to establish its rhythm. On Thursday, it took them about a minute.
Nelson's first kill was thunderous strike from her outside hitter position, a quick answer to North grabbing the first point of the set. Lambert used runs of five and seven points to stoke momentum, and by the time Nelson picked up her fourth kill of the set, the Longhorns' 16-6 lead forced North to take a timeout.
Lambert wins final point against North Forsyth
The Raiders rallied to win seven of the next 10 points, capped by an impressive block by Ana Colon and Kate Perryman, but an Ella Beyer ace ignited another run that the Longhorns used to close the set.
"First set, I think they just had us back on our heels," North head coach Kelly Cecil said. "You could tell even from warmups that they were just on another level from us. It was like we were playing catch-up in that first set. I think finally toward the end we kind of woke up a little bit, but it was a little too late."
Lambert head coach Missey Hall praised Nelson but was quick to credit junior Gillian Mathauer and freshman Dani Cortes, who helped fill Nelson's role during Wednesday's match.
"The girls last night, I don't want to take away from what they did last night. Gillian and Dani were phenomenal last night, and I cannot take that away from them," Hall said. "Taylor brings the six-rotation presence on the court. Her out-of-system play is phenomenal. She did it all tonight; she led in kills, she was right up there in digs, aces. I mean, she did it all tonight. It was a gutsy performance knowing that she was in a lot of pain earlier this week."
Nelson finished with a team-high 14 kills, adding eight digs and an ace.
Perryman had a game-high 15 kills, including six in the first set. North built a 5-0 start the second set, but Lambert peeled off another 7-0 run, fueled by a pair of big-time blocks by Molly Kate Patten and Jordan White. Lambert won the second set 25-13, then survived a 9-2 North lead in the third set to finish the sweep, 25-19.
"Since we are able to play, it just feels like a blessing," Lambert senior Bella Tolone said. "The fact that all of us can be on the court together, none of us take it for granted. We're all so grateful for that. Of course, winning the championship feels amazing. Everyone on the court and everyone on the team is just so happy. We've worked so hard this season, and it paid off in that game."
Tolone and Perryman were named Area 6-7A Players of the Year before the match.
North and Lambert also split the Area 6-7A Freshman of the Year award, as Patten and Brooke Crummel were named the top freshmen in Forsyth County.
Drew and Kelly Cecil were named Area 6-7A Coaches of the Year, leading the Raiders to a 36-11 overall record. It's a marked improvement for a North program that finished a combined 43-40 in the past two seasons.
"There's still a lot to play for, obviously. We all would have loved to win this match — there's no denying that," North head coach Drew Cecil said. "But at the same time there's a lot to play for. We have had a pretty good season so far. It's been a bit of a turnaround from where we've been the last couple of years. There's a lot to be proud of, and there's a lot to play for moving forward."
Lambert moves to 24-3 overall, and the Longhorns haven't lost a set in area play since a 3-1 win at North on Sept. 17.
"We had a gameplan going into this match, and they could not have executed our gameplan (any better)," Hall said. "The zones that they served to kept them out of system. Kate is going to get kills — period. She's a great hitter, but we knew who to key on in serve/receive. I think our serving made such a difference in tempo, what they were able to produce and how we were able to respond."
Tolone had 10 kills and 18 assists in a balanced Lambert attack. Beyer and Sarah Black each had five kills, while Patten finished with four and White added two more.
"This is probably the best year we've had, and this is one of my favorite teams I've ever played on in my entire volleyball career," Tolone said. "So, we're all just trying to take every moment in. It's all really special ... This team is a family. All the girls on the team are so close with one another. There's no drama, and it's something that's very rare."
Forsyth Central continued its incredible late-season run in the third-place game, beating West Forsyth 3-2. The Bulldogs won 17-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-21, 15-12.