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Volleyball: Lambert, North Forsyth set for Area 6-7A title clash
Area Championship
North Forsyth and Lambert will play 7 p.m. Thursday in the Area 6-7A championship at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by David Roberts

Kate Perryman wasn't coming out of the game.

North Forsyth head coaches Drew and Kelly Cecil told her as much.

Tied with Forsyth Central 2-2 and heading into a decisive fifth set, North leaned on its reliable senior to set the tone.

"We told her going into that fifth set — because usually she's got a sub for her back row — we told her, 'You're not coming off the floor,'" Kelly Cecil said. "So, we just needed that senior leadership and determination. She was just more locked in and focused in that fifth set. I think the rest of the girls fed off it, too."

Perryman responded with a couple of kills to grant North a 2-0 lead, then added two more as the Raiders secured a spot in the Area 6-7A championship game with a 3-2 victory. North won 25-16, 27-25, 23-25, 14-25, 15-10.

North will face Lambert at 7 p.m. Thursday at Forsyth Central High School with the region's top seed on the line.

Central will play West Forsyth at 5 p.m. in the third-place game. The Bulldogs reached the semifinals after upsetting third-seeded South Forsyth on Tuesday.

"Legitimately, this is season five for me, and I got my first region victory this year," Central head coach Brian Welsch said. "So, not only did we win the last four, but we won the first four. We've changed up our rotation a little bit, but what we've done is we've just put in a lot of hard work. The girls are killing it in the weight room, and they give it everything they've got in the offseason. They just continue I guess to believe in what I'm saying. That's all you can ever ask for in a hard-working athlete, is to trust you."

Perryman, who finished with 21 kills, started off the fourth set in similar fashion, logging four quick kills as North raced to a 7-1 lead. But Central peeled off an 18-3 run in a lopsided fourth set.

Malone Davis had a string of three aces during the run, and a Sarah Pipping kill capped the 25-14 win.

"They just have so much momentum here in the postseason," Kelly Cecil said. "I mean, they knocked off Gainesville, and that was kind of expected, but after knocking off South last night we knew that we were going to catch them on a high. We just had to respect that. We knew that they were on the rise toward the end of the season here. Our girls respected that. They're playing lights out right now, so we told them in the locker room that that's a huge region win."

Emma Kiser led Central with 16 kills, while Pipping had 15 kills and Davis chipped in 11 kills and five aces.

North Forsyth rallies past Forsyth Central

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Missing one of its best players, Lambert needed a set to calibrate its lineup.

Still, even without their typical efficiency, the Longhorns managed to outlast West Forsyth 25-23 in the first set, then win the next two, 25-13 and 25-19, to earn a spot in the Area 6-7A championship.

Lambert played without talented outside hitter Taylor Nelson, who Lambert head coach Missey Hall said is dealing with patellar tendonitis. 

"We only had one day to prepare for new lineup, unfortunately," Hall said. "So, that first set was sort of feeling things out. We found our groove in the second set, which was much better — our serving was much better. I think we had four missed serves in the first set, which really hurt us."

Lambert used a couple of Miranda Hardin aces to erase a 21-19 West lead in the first set, then Bella Tolone's fifth kill of the set sealed the victory. 

The second set was marred by several delays due to disputed calls, which drew the ire of West head coach Jake Dickey.

"The first set was good. I think they got away with a little double right there," Dickey said. "The second set was just a clustermess with ridiculous calls. I hate that, because Lambert is very good. It's going to be hard to beat them without that going on. With that going on, it's just like, 'Well, keep playing, girls.'"

Lambert closed the second set on an 11-2 run, fueled by a trio of aces by freshman Dani Cortes.

"That's pretty remarkable for a freshman to come off the bench that way. She's a wonderful athlete," Hall said. "Super proud of Gillian Mathauer filling that role for Taylor. She made really smart shots and kept the ball in play. She did a great job in the backcourt as well."

Mathauer turned in a team-high 16 digs, while Hardin had 13 and Tolone added 11. Tolone led the Longhorns with 11 kills. Megan Martin paced Lambert's offense with 17 assists and also had eight digs. 

Hall said she does not know if Nelson will play in Thursday's championship match. Nelson's 170 kills this season rank second on the team.

"We practice all season on mental toughness in practice and mixing things up, like high-stakes drills," she said. "It shows when we have to make some changes like that, which is good. The first set was shaky — there's no doubt about it." 

Reece Rhoads had 11 kills to lead West, including five in the first set. Kendall Gentry led the Wolverines with 14 digs and two aces, while Lymaris Vasquez had 11 digs and five kills. Cayla Cowart added four kills.

West beat Central 3-1 last month, but Dickey knows the Bulldogs will be a tough out in the third-place match. 

"I think both of us are playing well right now, and it's going to be probably five sets if I know us and I know them," Dickey said. "Probably five, down to the wire, which is the way it should be. Our region is so tough. Tonight would have been a great win if we could have pulled it out, but Lambert is just so strong.