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Volleyball: Lambert tops North in title match; Central claims third
Lambert volleyball players celebrate Thursday after winning the Area 6-7A championship with a 3-1 victory over North Forsyth. - photo by David Roberts

Lambert's seniors are few, but there is at least one tie that binds all three players.

They've never lost a region match at the varsity level.

Taylor Nelson, Aubrey Lee and Mary Grace DeMarco will graduate with that streak intact after the Longhorns defeated North Forsyth on Thursday in the Area 6-7A championship match, 3-1. 

"Taylor came in as a sophomore and she has never lost a region match her entire career here. So, this is three years in a row undefeated in region. None of these girls have ever lost a varsity match at the varsity level. I'm pretty proud of them for that."

The Longhorns won 25-20, 25-14, 25-15, while North took the second set 25-19. 

Lambert won a hotly contested first set, winning the final five points after a 20-20 tie. Back-to-back kills by Taylor Nelson and Ella Beyer after a timeout granted the Longhorns a two-point lead, and after a couple of unforced errors, Nelson's sixth kill of the set sealed the victory.

North stormed back in the second set, one in which the Raiders never trailed. Lambert managed to knot the set twice, but a kill by Nathalia Quintero and a pair of big blocks by Brooke Crummel and Melina Baumann turned a 9-9 tie into a three-point North advantage, then another kill by Crummel sparked a 4-0 run that put North ahead 18-14 and triggered a Lambert timeout. 

"It's so much about their emotions, and I just felt they were really level-headed. They were confident," North coach Kelly Christensen said. "I think there was only one little serve run that Lambert got on that kind of threw us back a little bit, but for the most part, that whole second set is how we should play all the time."

North and Lambert split the first 14 points of the third set before Claire Jenkins' kill set the Longhorns on an 11-3 run that saw a huge block by Dani Cortes and a couple of kills by Molly Kate Patten and Ella Beyer. Lambert left no doubt in the fourth set, leading the whole way through.

Patten finished with nine kills and led the Longhorns with seven blocks. Cortes and Beyer each had six blocks, while Jordan White had four and Nelson had one. 

"They're good, athletic girls. They move well," Christensen said of Lambert's middle blockers. "Our plan was just to make them move, so we're not just setting anything straight in the middle. We're actually making them move and making them press on the block and read our hitters a little bit more."

Quintero scored on a couple of dump shots that caught Lambert's middles off-guard, while Crummel attacked the outside and finished with 11 kills, adding four blocks and an ace.

Beyer led the Longhorns with 13 kills and Nelson followed with 12 kills, hitting .400 on the night.

Hall was impressed by both players' variety of shots. 

"It's tough with a team as powerful as they are to get them to not bang all the time," Hall said. "And I'm telling you, if I were 6-foot-2 and I could bang like that, I'd probably want to bang all the time, too. I loved the way that Ella was mixing up shots and Taylor was mixing up shots. Dani came up with some huge plays tonight. Our middles did a great job. MK and Jordan really held the middle and got those kills when we needed them."

Despite the loss, North locks up the No. 2 seed in the region and will host at least one playoff match. 

The Raiders do not have any seniors on the roster, but Christensen said some of the team's underclassmen have been playing like upperclassmen down the stretch, including middle blocker Melina Baumann, who tied the record for blocks in a single match [9] last week.

"She's become a lot more confident in herself." Christensen said. "It's been really cool to watch Melina develop, just from the beginning of the season to now. You see that so much in younger players, like freshmen and sophomores. I feel like they bloom so much, just within half of a season. They start playing like upperclassmen. She's got that confidence going, and she's super athletic and super smart. She never gets down on herself and just does a really good job of moving onto the next play."

Central topped Denmark in the third-place match, 3-1, to earn the No. 3 seed heading into the playoffs.

Emma Kiser finished with 16 kills and a couple of aces, including one that captured the fourth and final set. Sarah Pipping had 15 kills for the Bulldogs and also had two blocks. 

Central's Kiser and Lambert's Nelson were honored between matches as the Co-Area 6-7A Players of the Year.