Alpharetta volleyball semifinals

Alpharetta celebrates after defeating Lambert in the 7A state semifinals Oct. 31.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Alpharetta and Lambert faced off on Halloween day in the Class 7A semifinals. One team’s season had to come to an end, while the other would advance to the pinnacle of the sport, the state championship.

Alpharetta took the first two sets and seemed to be on the brink of sweeping the match and earning state finals berth, but the Longhorns stormed back and forced a tiebreaker fifth set. With their season on the line, the Raiders bounced back to take the fifth set and win the match, advancing to their third state finals in five years.

“We started to pick up momentum at the end of that fourth set, and I told them to roll with it,” Alpharetta head coach Grace Fossier said. “It’s such a mental battle when you play a game like that against a strong team. We told them ‘You got this. Use this momentum and go.’ And thank god they got it together. It was a race to 15. Anything can happen in a set like that. We’re excited. I’m delighted for our girls. I didn’t see this coming.”

Alpharetta took the first set by a score of 25-15. The Raiders and Longhorns went back and forth to start the set, at one point tying each other at 4-4. From then on, the Raiders took control and built a comfortable lead in the set before reaching 25 points.

Following the victory in the first set, Alpharetta jumped out to a 3-0- lead in the second. Lambert responded, and once again, the teams went back and forth trading points. The set was tied at 11-11 and 15-15 until Lambert took a 18-16 lead. Then, Alpharetta took eight of the next nine points to take a 24-19 lead. The Raiders won the set, 25-21, and took a 2-0 lead in the match.

The two teams took a five-minute break after the second set, one that was much needed for the reeling Longhorns. Not only did the break let Lambert re-group, but it slowed the momentum Alpharetta had built after winning the first two sets in the best-of-five match.

Lambert came out in the third set and looked like an entirely different team. The Longhorns took the first point of the set and built a 9-4 lead over the Raiders. The Raiders stayed within striking distance, but they were unable to comeback completely. With their backs against the wall and their season on the line, the Longhorns took the third set, 25-18, and forced a fourth set.

Facing the same do-or-die predicament, Lambert rose to the occasion once again in the fourth. The Longhorns charged to a 7-1 lead and never looked back, winning the set 25-14 and forcing the all-important fifth set.

Lambert’s comeback came to an end in the fifth, as Alpharetta returned to its form from the first two sets. While the set was tied 5-5 at point, the Raiders took seven of the next nine points and led 12-7. Playing to 15 points, Alpharetta finished the set out, 15-9, to take the set and advance to the Class 7A state finals.

“Lambert is a great team,” Fossier said. “It wasn’t surprising that they found their rhythm and started coming at us. We knew it would be a battle coming in, so it’s not like I thought it would be a walk in the park. If anything, I thought the first couple sets surprised me. Momentum is a big thing in these games. It swung their way, and they started coming. We re-grouped and got our warrior mentality back, and that’s all you can do in a moment like this.”

Alpharetta (19-4) plays in the state finals against perennial powerhouse Walton (21-1). Walton has won a state championship five years in a row and also won four state titles in a row from 2010-13.

The volleyball state championship matches for all classes take place Nov. 7 at the Lakepoint Sports Complex in Cartersville. The 7A final between Alpharetta and Walton is the final match of the day at 6:30 p.m.

For Alpharetta, the trip to the state finals is their first since back-to-back trips to the 6A finals in 2016 and 2017. The Raiders lost to Harrison in both those years and lost to Allatoona in the semifinals in 2018 and 2019.

Regardless of the outcome against Walton, Fossier realized the accomplishment of reaching the final weekend of the season, a weekend when most teams in the state have already ended their season. Plus, the Raiders made it to the championship the year after they lost seven seniors to graduation and moved up from 6A to 7A.

“It kind of feels surreal,” Fossier said. “At the end of last season, I could not have predicted this at all. We’re just going to enjoy the moment.”

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