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Volleyball: Lambert survives another five-set match, downs Hillgrove
Ally Hall
From left, junior Miranda Hardin, sophomore Gillian Mathauer, senior Ally Hall and junior Clarisse Evangelista celebrate Tuesday after winning a point during the Longhorns' 3-2 win against Hillgrove in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts

Taylor Nelson had her orders written on her wrist. 

In marker was one simple directive: Kill. 

Nelson, Lambert's surging outside hitter, finished with 13 of them Tuesday, helping the Longhorns stave off elimination in yet another five-set drama, downing Hillgrove 3-2 in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.

“I just wanted to kill something, because I wrote 'kill' on my wrist and I just wanted to kill (Hillgrove) with my serves,” Nelson said.

The Longhorns (24-12) will face Walton on Saturday in the Elite Eight. 

Taylor Nelson
Lambert sophomore Taylor Nelson goes for a kill Tuesday during the Longhorns' 3-2 win against Hillgrove in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts
Nelson also had 14 digs and a pair of aces, including one in the fifth-set tiebreaker that helped sway the momentum after Hillgrove took the first two points.

Lambert, which trailed Hillgrove 9-6 at one point in the fifth set, took six of the final seven points, a run that featured four kills by senior Ally Hall.

Hall led the Longhorns with 24 kills, adding 17 assists, eight digs and a couple of blocks.

Lambert beat Lakeside-DeKalb on Saturday in similar fashion. The Longhorns trailed 2-1 before winning the fourth, then rallying to take the fifth set and win the match. 

So, is Lambert head coach Missey Hall getting used to these stomach-churning matches? Not quite. 

“What we are getting used to is being able to whip out a new lineup because of an injury," Missey Hall said. "We can turn that dial and make it happen, and it’s just so unfortunate. It really is.”

The Longhorns altered their lineup yet again in the fourth set Tuesday after promising freshman Ella Beyer appeared to sprain her ankle.

Ella Beyer
Lambert freshman Ella Beyer, right, blocks a shot Tuesday during the Longhorns' 3-2 win against Hillgrove in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts
Beyer's injury left a void in Lambert's middle, a spot where the Longhorns have been bare much of the second half of the season.

Missey Hall lauded the play of junior Ashley York, who filled in for Beyer during Lamert's 25-12 fourth-set win.

Beyer burst onto the scene this season and is among the team leaders in blocks.

“She has this freshness and this excitement, and I love that she never gets down," Missey Hall said of Beyer, who rallied her team from the foot of the bleachers after her injury, ringing a cowbell during the Longhorns' fifth-set win. 

"She’s a sponge. She’s always learning. She’s a joy to coach and she’s great to have on the team. I just hate to see this happen to her. Hopefully, she’ll get in that ice bucket and good things will happen in the next three days.”

Lambert won the first set, 25-20, but ran into problems in the second set when Hillgrove began to lean on junior right-side hitter Chelci Banks, who overpowered the Longhorns' defense during a 25-21 win.

The Longhorns countered by inserting previously injured freshman Jordan White into the lineup, hoping to slow down the Hawks' attack. 

“Jordan has had one practice," Missey Hall said. "She was cleared Friday afternoon, so I didn’t want to use her, but I knew they had really good hitters, really effective hitters with great shot selection.”

Junior Sarah Black had a string of blocks in the third set, blocking three straight shot to draw Lambert closer. But the Longhorns couldn't dig themselves out of an early hole, falling 25-14.

Black enjoyed another productive day, tallying eight kills, five digs and four blocks. 

More than half of Nelson's total kills (7) came in the fourth set, as she and Ally Hall powered Lambert's offense past Hillgrove. 

Ally Hall made several unbelievable plays, including a couple of shots where she sent the ball from one end to the net to the other, hugging the top of the net before dropping on the other side.

Nelson, who is playing her first season with the Longhorns after her family moved from California, put an exclamation point on the 25-12 win with her first of two aces.

“These girls here want to win," Nelson said, "and we fight until the end to get that win.”

Lambert's next task is a stiff one: A date with Class 7A power Walton, which is 29-8 and hasn't lost to a Georgia school this season.

“Everybody’s played a different role this year. This is really just another challenge. You know what? They’ve got to lose some time. Why not us?" Missey Hall said. "We’ve been thrown I don’t even know how many monkey wrenches, how many curveballs, and the girls respond really, really well. It’s pretty cool to see a team with their backs against the wall and they don’t get rattled. It’s a blessing to coach them.”

Lambert players celebrate after winning a point Tuesday during the Longhorns' 3-2 win against Hillgrove in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts