The Lambert volleyball on Tuesday faced a situation that was familiar in multiple aspects.
The Longhorns’ second round state playoff matchup against Norcross was the second time they had faced the Blue Devils this season, with the other matchup being a 2-0 win on Sept. 13. And having an opportunity to advance deep into the playoffs isn’t new, either: The Longhorns had been to at least the state quarterfinals the previous two seasons.
But it was the differences between this particular Lambert team and past ones that powered the Longhorns on Wednesday, as they swept Norcross, 25-20, 25-22, 25-7.
The first matchup for the Longhorns against Norcross came after a pivotal event for the team this season: the loss of star junior Ally Hall to a torn ACL.
The Hall-less version of the Longhorns has still evolved significantly since then, though. They’re no longer playing with a libero, and they’ve refined and changed their offensive strategy, with an emphasis on variety.
"We used to just go outside, right-side, outside, right-side," Richey said. "And now we're able to kind of mix it up and go outside, right-side, middle, which is awesome, because they're getting blocks, but not nearly as many as they would be if we were just sticking with outside."
Appropriately, Richey, one of the team's middle blockers, tied for the lead in kills on Tuesday with 10, which Ashley Hills and Bella Tolone also matched.
Richey has also been around long enough to compare this Lambert team's success to past years, and the main thing she notices is the team's stronger bond.
"Last year, we were bonded too, but not nearly the same way as we are right now," Richey said. "It's like a sisterhood."
That often manifests in a level of energy that can carry the Longhorns. At the end of a tough second set, Lambert was up just 23-22, with the noise of Norcross' home gym echoing loudly. But on the next point, Lael White faked a set and instead pushed the ball past all of the Blue Devils for a point. White hit an ace on the next point to win the set, and Lambert cruised in the next one, powered mainly by a tough service game.
The Longhorns (33-9), who are set to face Walton on Saturday in the next round, stand out to Hall especially for resilience. They've dealt with season-ending injuries and sicknesses to Hall and setter Claire Mathauer, and Richey has been playing through a thumb injury. And while Lambert's odds against the national powerhouse Raiders look long, Hall still feels satisfaction at having made it this far.
"They just rise to the occasion – I'm so proud of them," Hall said. "They're like the little engine that could."