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Volleyball: Lambert splits with Mill Creek, Pope ahead of area play
Lambert setter Claire Jenkins, center, celebrates Tuesday during the Longhorns' win against Mill Creek. - photo by David Roberts

By Noah Rubin

After sweeping Mill Creek in their first match Tuesday, Lambert struggled to keep that momentum going into their second match against Pope, falling 25-21 and 25-22.

Eerily enough, when the Lambert and Pope faced off just 10 days prior, it was Lambert who swept Pope, winning the first set 25-21 and the second set 25-22.

Lambert coach Missey Hall shared that it was a complete 180 for her team between the first and second matches of the night.

“I was really pleased with the way we played against Mill Creek,” Hall said. “Our passing was really close to the goal we were hoping for. We had a really balanced offense. We were good defensively. Dani Cortes ended up with 8 kills and 5 digs, which led the team. I think she played really well all around. We were super inconsistent against Pope. Tons of unforced errors that dug us a hole immediately. Unfortunately, we were making the same unforced errors over and over again. 

"Again in that game, Dani Cortes led the team with 11 kills and 6 digs. She really swung it big time, which I thought was great. We didn’t capitalize on those opportunities like we should have. They opened the door for us a few times, and we’d come back with a missed serve. Those are things we’re working on. Capitalizing when a team gives us an opportunity and just getting more consistent offensively.”

After having consistency with Miranda Hardin at libero the past few years, the Longhorns have had to break in a new player at the position.

Freshman Francesca Popescu has stepped right up and made the transition to the varsity level quickly.

“It’s been really smooth, and she’s an excellent libero,” Hall said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman. She’s very confident. She plays high level club, and she’s done a fantastic job all the way around for us. Serve receive, defensively, and serving as well.”

Lambert has missed a big piece of their team over the past few weeks, as senior Taylor Nelson has been sidelined with an injury. 

Being without her hasn’t been easy for the team, but it’s an adjustment that’s allowed for the team to grow.

“Being without Taylor Nelson is a tough one for us,” Hall admitted. “She’s normally a spark plug on the court. She’s a leader. She usually leads the team in kills, and we’re missing her. But it’s an opportunity for others to shine which is good. Dani’s definitely stepped up in that role. Our middles have stepped up in that role. We really appreciate that. It doesn't go unnoticed for us. Consistency is something we’re going to have to get better at as we go into region play.”

A number of other players have stepped up during Nelson’s absence. 

Sophomore Molly Kate Patten, as well as juniors Jordan White and Claire Jenkins, have been vital to the team’s success so far this season.

“MK is an incredibly hard worker,” Hall said. “She’s a really great kid. She’s really learning to run different plays, make different runs in the middle position, and it’s helped her immensely. I think she’s starting to understand what a hard swing feels like, and where she needs to go with the ball. She’s really blossomed this year, and she’s been a big factor for us. Jordan White has also really exploded at the middle position. She’s doing really well blocking. And Claire Jenkins has been incredible. She was MaxPreps Georgia high school volleyball player of the last week and Lambert’s female athlete of the week. She’s come on big time to run the offense this season.”

Jenkins had four aces in the first match and 48 assists over the course of the evening.

Lambert has a quick turnaround as they host Marist at 5 p.m.