The 2019 season hasn’t been the most charmed one for Lambert’s volleyball team, but heading into Saturday afternoon, they certainly were a heavy favorite.
Despite all the injuries and turnover they’ve faced, the Longhorns had been absolutely dominant throughout their Area 5-7A slate, not having lost a single set to any of their opponents en route to a 5-0 record.
After cruising by West Forsyth on Thursday, Milton was the only team that stood between Lambert and an area title. In the first set of the two teams’ Saturday title matchup, though, Lambert didn’t quite seem like itself, making unforced errors that the Eagles capitalized on. The Longhorns lost their early lead when Milton tied the set at 22-22, and after an ensuing run, Lambert’s streak of perfection was suddenly over.
Now playing from behind, the Longhorns were in unfamiliar territory. As the team huddled together before the second set, they reminded each other to maintain a short memory.
“It's a little adversity,” Ally Hall said. “It's not something that we're used to in the last couple of weeks … Everyone came in the huddle and we said, ‘Hey, we can't let this first set define us. There's five sets for a reason -- let's go out there and kick some butt.’”
While Milton continued to fight hard to defend their title from last year, Lambert regrouped quickly and swept the rest of the match, taking a 3-1 victory over the Eagles, 24-26, 25-11, 25-23, 25-15 to claim the Area 5-7A title. They’ll enter the Class 7A playoffs at home, hosting Lakeside-DeKalb next week.
“It’s especially special this year,” Lambert head coach Missey Hall said. “It was an unexpected rebuilding year for us. To have Taylor (Nelson) move in, to have the injuries that we've had ... Week after week, somebody else steps up and fills that role. Anytime you put 15 to 17 girls together and there's no drama, it's a beautiful thing. These girls are just really connected, so it's just real special that every single person on the team has contributed in some way.”
After their uncharacteristic first set, the Longhorns briefly fell behind again at 2-0 before rattling off six straight points. Kills from Ally Hall and Ella Beyer helped keep Lambert ahead for the rest of the set en route to a match-tying win, and they were able to find holes in Milton’s defense.
“Our serving became really the focus of what was going on,” Missey Hall said. “We focused on a couple of their players and got them out of system. They are an excellent ball control team, and for somebody to get them out of system, you've done something.”
And as the match went on, Lambert’s attack showed even more balanced, with Beyer and Sarah Black playing well in the middle. The match’s third set was much closer than the second, with both teams neck-and-neck for the first half. Milton went on a short run to take a 20-15 lead, but Lambert responded to tie the game before a pair of Ally Hall kills put the Longhorns a set away from a title. In Set 4, Lambert jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, with errors keeping Milton from staying in it.
Ally Hall led the Longhorns with four aces, 14 kills, 18 assists and 12 digs. Nelson added three aces, eight kills, three blocks and five digs. Right after the final point, Hall ran to the bench to hug her mother, and embraced all her teammates. Being on the court was something she missed greatly last year, and she’s looking forward to seeing how far her team can go in her senior year.
“It was very exciting,” she said. “After I tore my ACL, that was definitely one of my goals. ‘I was like, I really want to get the team here and I want us to all love each other.’ That's what we did. My heart is so full.”