Peyton Smith and the rest of the Lambert girls lacrosse team’s seniors spent a great deal of their time leading up to the 2017 season talking about getting the program’s first state playoff victory in its history. They were sophomores when last the Longhorns reached the state playoffs in 2015 and got an unlucky draw in the first round against Milton, the state’s juggernaut girls lacrosse program. After missing out on the state playoffs as juniors, Smith and the seniors vowed to end their careers on a better note.
But privately, Smith had even bigger aspirations.
“My goal was always to make it to the (state) semifinals,” Smith said.
Smith helped lead Lambert there. The Longhorns went a school-record 16-6 and reached the Class 6-7A state semifinals where they lost to area rival, Cambridge, 9-8 – a game and a goal short of the state championship.
Smith, a midfielder, paced the team in both goals (81) and draws (78) as Lambert’s go-to player in the pillar components of the sport, for which she is the 2017 Forsyth County News’ Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year.
“It was almost like one of those things that was unbelievable,” Smith said about this past season. “It was the best year for it to happen being senior year.”
Going into the season, Smith’s priority was to improve at the draw. She took private lessons with former Milton player Annie Ruland, a former player at the University of Southern California. Assistant coach Matt Lawler underscored the draw’s importance at the team’s first practice this season, gathering Smith and the team’s other contributors on the draw. Facing them, he held up a yellow lacrosse ball with care.
“This is our golden egg,” Smith remembers him saying. “We get this, we win. … It just really motivated me to really work on draws, learn how to place it, making it go far, making it stay short, keeping it close to me.”
Smith and the Longhorns won 60 percent of their draws this season, and she developed a particularly effective connection with freshman middie Gabby DiVirgilio, who was right behind Smith in draws with 72.
They put their unusual connection to use at some of the team’s most daunting moments, none more so than in the state quarterfinals against Pope. Down 7-3 in the second half, Smith and DiVirgilio turned the game at the draw, winning eight straight to help Lambert come back for a 10-8 win to reach the state semifinals.
That connection was poignant for Smith. She had experienced something similar as a freshman with then-seniors Danielle Dollar and Emily Brennen.
“It was really cool from my freshman year getting that from seniors and then being able to do that this year with a freshman,” Smith said.
Smith hopes her work at the draw can help her at the next level. She signed with Kennesaw State University, an emerging Division I program that went a school-best 8-9 this season. The program is young, the coaching staff is new, so there’s opportunity to make a fast impression, especially in such a critical factor of the sport.
“After this year being so dominant on the draw with Gabby, I’m hoping to go in there and work my way in on the draw, and then work my way in to the offense,” Smith said. “I’m really excited though.”