HOSCHTON — Conflicting feelings swirled just feet apart in the Mill Creek High School gym on Saturday afternoon. While the Hawks’ volleyball team and a group of students circled up and yelled a victory chant, Lambert’s players and coaches hugged and dabbed away tears, confronting the end of their season.
The Longhorns lost on Saturday afternoon in the state quarterfinals, 21-25, 25-16, 21-25, 24-26, and round earlier than their playoff exit last year. They were bested by the Hawks for the third time this year, with Mill Creek’s twin sister duo of Rachel and Rebekah Machovec making plays in every phase of the game and the Longhorns not finding the perfection they needed to keep pace.
Of all the emotions Lambert felt, though, disappointment wasn’t one of them.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions right now,” Longhorns head coach Missey Hall said. “I’m full of so much pride, because (with) losing seven seniors, we really didn’t know what this year would bring, and to see them grow as far as they did was truly amazing. It’s been one of the most remarkable years I’ve had coaching.”
One of Lambert’s four returning seniors was Madeleine Bertz, a middle blocker committed to play at William & Mary. She was one of the team’s most productive players on Saturday, leading the Longhorns with 15 kills and contributing two blocks and two aces.
Bertz was fully aware of the changes Lambert had to confront heading into the season, and uncertainty towards the program wasn’t just coming from the outside.
“Nobody thought that we would make it here,” Bertz said. “We weren’t even sure that we would make it here.”
Hall made note of the growth that she saw from the Longhorns this year, which was evident in the teams’ results as the year went on. Lambert (29-12) lost to North Forsyth in four sets in the fourth match of Area 5-7A play, but less than a month later, in the area tournament championship game, the Longhorns beat the Raiders in five sets to claim a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. They lost to Mill Creek (38-4) twice earlier in the season, including a three-set sweep on Aug. 22, and Hall said Saturday’s effort was the team’s best yet against the Hawks.
The growth wasn’t just confined to the program’s younger players.
“I feel like I’ve grown more than I have any other year of high school volleyball,” Bertz said. “I feel like coming into this season, there were two things I could have done: I could have said, ‘Last year was our year, and we didn’t do it, and now we have a whole new team of girls that I don’t even know.’ Or I could have come in and said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s build a team and let’s kick butt.’”
“That’s the one that I chose, and I haven’t regretted it.”