NORCROSS – The Lambert volleyball team held on to its exhilaration, bottling it up with every comeback and every pivotal point. Every now and then, Ally Hall, the Longhorns’ freshman outside hitter, leapt in celebration after a point, but more often she employed a swift and sure fist pump. Madeleine Bertz, Lambert’s junior middle, whipped around toward her teammates with restrained swagger after one crucial block, her face stoic.
But after Lambert senior Kendal Barrett’s serve fell in for an ace to finish off a tense 25-23, 26-24, 25-20 victory against Norcross in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A state playoffs Saturday, the Lady Longhorns’ exhilaration erupted into equal parts unbridled joy and wonder.
Players raced around the court for hugs and pictures as Lambert’s visiting fans rattled cowbells. The fans – a collection of parents, friends, administration and others that nearly out-numbered Norcross’s home fans – eventually spilled out on the court, and the hugs and pictures multiplied.
“It’s so awesome. I’m so excited,” Lambert senior Jordyn Moellering said. “This is so great.”
The win continues Lambert’s program-best playoff run to the state semifinals where the Lady Longhorns will face Lassiter, who defeated North Gwinnett, on the road Wednesday. The winner will play either South Forsyth, the Lady Longhorns’ county rival, or Walton, the state’s volleyball juggernaut, for the state championship.
Lambert’s trademark balance prevailed in the end Saturday. Hall (11 kills), Barrett (eight), Amanda Sinning (seven) and Madeleine Bertz (six) came at Norcross from all angles, with Kailin Taggart and Kendall Spangler chipping in as well. Hall (21 assists) and Barrett (16) shared the quarterbacking of the offense. Bertz patrolled the net with six blocks, five of them solo, while Moellering (22 digs) and Sissy Allen (11) anchored the back line.
“We play together,” Moellering said. “If one person makes a mistake, we don’t get down. We all pick each other up, and I really think that helps with our team.”
Norcross’s best answer to Lambert’s balance was the potential singular dominance of senior Tia Jimerson, a 6-foot-3 senior committed to Ohio University who could pound hits with uncanny force and intimidate on the block. Jimerson finished with 14 kills, six alone in the second set, but had just two blocks. Jimerson had just four kills in the first and third sets each, leaving much of the work on offense to Western Carolina commit MaKenzie White (18 kills).
The Lady Longhorns’ antidote for Jimerson was to serve right to her in order to take her out of Norcross’ offensive sets.
“They served exactly where they were supposed to,” Lambert head coach Missey Hall said. “We knew we had to key in on [Jimerson] as well blocking.
“They executed everything we worked on. I’m so proud of them.”
Lambert gritted through the first set, pulling ahead 11-6 only for Norcross to pull ahead 13-12. Neither team more than a two-point cushion the rest of the way.
Tied 23-23, Lambert got a spike from Bertz and an error by Norcross to clinch the set.
Even when Lambert went ahead 11-5 in the second set, Norcross regrouped after a timeout to go on a 6-0 run to pull even. By Lambert’s second timeout, the Lady Longhorns trailed 19-16, Jimerson having asserted herself with her swing and block. Lambert trailed as late as 24-23.
But the Lady Longhorns responded. Ally Hall had a kill, Bertz blocked Jimerson and Taggart blasted the winning point through Norcross’s block.
“I think they pulled together really, really well,” Missey Hall said. “There was no sniping on the court. I think it was in the second set we had six unforced errors. We had a hard time blocking the right side. After the timeout they closed the block. They’re just really listening and executing after a timeout, which is awesome to see.”
Lambert sought to dissipate the tension after the first two sets. Norcross did drills for much of the intermission. After talking some strategy, the Lady Longhorns relaxed behind its bench.
“Coach said that it was to let our minds chill for a second,” Moellering said. “We were so tense and so tight.”
Still, the tension persisted. Norcross led by as much as 12-9 early in the third set before Lambert went on a 6-1 run to pull ahead 15-13 and force the Blue Devils to call a timeout. Norcross tied it back at 17-17 and was within 19-18 but needed another timeout after Ally Hall had a deft tip in between a spike and block by Barrett.
No matter. Sinning had a kill. Bertz did too. Then Barrett’s serve pin-balled around Norcross defenders until it fell to the court, where Lambert soon celebrated.