Before the fifth set of their match against North Forsyth on Friday, the Lambert volleyball team huddled up in the hallway next to the stands at North's gymnasium, with players pumping each other up and screaming in unison. The coaches stayed on the sidelines.
The Longhorns had done that before, but Thursday's session had extra fire to it, with the Area 5-7A championship title a set away after Lambert had taken the fourth set 25-18.
"Our passing broke down a little bit those last two sets (of the first match)," Longhorns head coach Missey Hall said. "We've been working really hard on next-ball mentality and thinking (about) what's the next thing we have to do, working on the first-ball kill, and tonight, they really executed."
When Lambert (26-11, 6-1 Area 5-7A) took the court, the energy didn't go away. The Longhorns went up 10-4 and took the fifth set convincingly, closing out a 25-27, 25-18, 20-25, 25-18, 15-9 win that gave them the area championship and a top seed in the state playoffs.
The Longhorns' win was an emphatic turnaround from their previous result against North (37-8, 6-1), when the Raiders dominated the last two sets and won the match in four. Neither teams' talent changed significantly on Thursday, but the Longhorns' collaboration did.
"We had heard things, but we didn't know what to expect, so we put the ball in their court instead of doing what we know that we can do and keeping it on our side," Lambert middle blocker Madeleine Bertz said about the first match against North. "...We had some things to fix relationship-wise. We had to get closer as a team and bond, and we did."
Ally Hall was likely Lambert's most productive player on Thursday, leading the Longhorns with 26 kills and totaling 28 assists. Lambert had three other players -- Madeleine Bertz, Bella Tolone and Amanda Sinning -- with double-digit kills, though, and Lael White put up 38 assists.
The process of finding and establishing the team's top contributors has challenged the Longhorns at times this year. They had to replace seven seniors from 2016's team and also lost talented sophomore Kailin Taggart, who transferred to Marist, so much of Lambert's time this year has been dedicated to building trust and confidence within the team.
"I think at the beginning of the season, we really had to focus on what we were doing on our side of the court, not necessarily their side," Ally Hall said. "Because we were making a lot of 'us' errors and team errors and stuff like that. Now, we can focus on what they're doing."
Missey Hall has tried to spur that process by putting the Longhorns in challenging scenarios in practice, and on Thursday, they overcame one of those in a game. Lambert's season hasn't been smooth, exactly, but the Longhorns don't want it to end any time soon.
"We've had a roller coaster ride for the last month, really," Hall said. "And tonight they put it all together and were consistent, and that's what we've been looking for."