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Volleyball: Lambert breezes past Collins Hill in first round, 3-1
Taylor Nelson
Lambert senior Taylor Nelson collects one of her 10 kills Tuesday during the Longhorns' 3-1 win against Collins Hill in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts

Lambert can't simply overpower every team in the playoffs. 

The Longhorns boast some of the most powerful hitters in the area, but head coach Missey Hall is adamant that shot selection is what will help Lambert reach its ultimate goal.

So, in the second set of Lambert's 3-1 win over Collins Hill Tuesday, Claire Jenkins provided the finesse Hall wants to see.

With the ball suspended in the air, just barely on Lambert's side of the net, Jenkins rose to meet it with a chance to clobber home a kill. Instead, with Molly Kate Patten directly behind her and a Collins Hill middle blocker mirroring Jenkins' movement, she tipped the ball to Patten, who laid it across the net for an easy point.

"I kind of saw the blocker going up with me, so I was like, 'You know what, MK is right there.' I just used my one hit and she got the point," Jenkins said. "She tipped it, so it was great."

It was one of 45 assists for Lambert's junior setter and one of 13 kills for Patten. 

The Longhorns dominated the first two sets, 25-9 and 25-13, before an uncharacteristically sluggish third set. Collins Hill raced out to a 7-0 lead and led by as many as 10 points before winning 25-23.

"Hats off to them defensively," Hall said. "They did a wonderful job of just sending the ball back to us and letting us make mistakes. In the third set, we most certainly did. The amount of unforced errors we had in that third set was shocking. I'm glad that they started to dig back, and they had some momentum going, but it was too little, too late."

Lambert went back to the drawing board in the fourth set and began feeding Ella Beyer, who dished punishing kill after punishing kill. Beyer finished with seven kills in the fourth set, including four during a 12-0 run that Lambert used to take a 23-9 lead.

Beyer had a match-high 19 kills and hit .556, adding 12 digs.

"Passing improved fourth set and hitting greatly improved fourth set," Hall said. "Ella was completely on fire in that fourth set. Claire set really, really well. It's the consistency. At the state playoffs, if you don't do the little things right and you're not consistent the entire game from whistle to whistle, it's going to be a rough road. That was a rough road in the third set."

Taylor Nelson also reached the .500 threshold, finishing with 10 kills and a team-high eight aces, including a couple during Lambert's run. 

Jenkins said the Longhorns used the time between sets to recalibrate.

"In the huddle after the third set, we kind of talked about it and we said, 'This is our game,'" Jenkins said. "We knew we wanted to get on to the next round, so we kind of just brought our energy in that first point with Taylor's serves that fourth set. So, we used all of that. Setting the pins — Ella, that last set she was going insane. Then I kept using MK too, so we just kind of used all of our advantages and we just fought back in that fourth set and won it."

Lambert had a clear height advantage along the net and successfully exploited it, especially in the first and fourth sets. However, Hall is leery of the Longhorns' offense becoming too one-dimensional. 

"We can't bang all the time," she said. "We have got to finesse a little bit more than we do. I thought Ella and Taylor did a really good job of mixing up their shots. MK started to tip right [and] tip left, which really helped. It's tough when you know you are a power team. We're not going to be able to do what we need to do with all power. It's got to be more finesse, and it's got to be more shot selection."

Jordan White led the team with six blocks, while Patten added four. White also had four kills. Francesca Popescu led the team with 18 digs.

In addition to Jenkins' assist total, she also had six digs and three aces. As a true 5-1 server, Jenkins never leaves the court.

She had six aces last month during a match against Milton and collected eight in a two-set match against Cambridge earlier this season.

"I've been working on it for a while," Jenkins said of her serving. "I've tried really hard, because I was stand serving when I was younger. It gives me more momentum when I jump serve, so I have more pace."

Jenkins, who played last season at South Forsyth, collected her 1,000th assist earlier this season. 

"It's been amazing, actually. The program has been so welcoming," she said. "Coach Hall is one of the best coaches I've ever worked with. The girls on the team are just amazing athletes. All of them are going to be committed D1 and are just great. When I got hurt, I knew I was going to be back fast because it was my first injury and I was just going to bounce back. The energy that was on the court when I came back was just amazing, and it made me feel so happy, so it was just great to come back."

Lambert [27-7] will host Parkview on Saturday in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs at a time to be announced. Parkview [16-23] swept Campbell 3-0 on Tuesday.