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Longhorns junior brought game-changing dynamic to state champions
Lambert junior M.E. Craven holds a photo from her earliest days playing soccer. Craven is 4 or 5, playing in a league out of Johns Creek United Methodist. - photo by Micah Green

Before their own matches this past season, Eoin Griffiths and his Lambert boys soccer teammates always watched the Longhorns girls team play, and the loudest they might get in the stands would be when junior M.E. Craven decided to take over.

At times, Craven, a 6-foot-1 defender, would possess the ball in Lambert’s back line looking to distribute. But if Craven saw no open teammates, she would streak up the middle, dodging on-comers as she advanced to the opponent’s half.  

“She just powers through the whole other team,” Griffiths said. “… We go crazy in the stands.”

It was a common scene this season, one that was so charmed for the Auburn commit, and not just in soccer.

During the winter, she led Lambert’s girls basketball team to their best season in school history with their first region title and state quarterfinals appearance. Craven was named the Region 5-7A player of the year minutes after hitting the game-winning free throw in the region title game.

Lambert junior M.E. Craven anchored the Longhorns’ stifling defense while adding four goals and seven assists this season. - photo by Micah Green

The state playoff run caused her to miss the first few games of the soccer season, but she returned in style with a game-winning penalty kick against county and region rival West Forsyth. From then on, the Longhorns were unbeatable in the state of the Georgia. They won 16 of 17 games, their lone loss coming against Oak Mountain from Alabama. Their last win was against Grayson, 2-1, in the Class 7A state championship, the program’s first ever.

In that historic run, Craven added a unique quality to Lambert’s defense that posted 14 shutouts, including their first four games of the state tournament.

With her size, Craven came in for corner kicks as another scoring threat, like her header against Kennesaw Mountain in the second round of the state playoffs. Craven had another goal that game, half of her four goals on the season.

With her strength, Craven would take long free kicks, like her feed from about midfield in the first overtime period of the state championship game that led to Alisa Barr’s eventual game-winning goal, one of Craven’s seven assists on the season – even if it wasn’t her most precise.

“I was aiming for back post, and it went near post,” Craven said. “But I mean, it worked out.”

And, of course, with her speed she made those mesmerizing runs from one end of the pitch to the other that tempted opposing defenders to charge and give Lambert the advantage in numbers.

“If I don't see anyone open, I just go myself,” Craven said. “I'm not the most technical player ever, so I just hope I can run past the people.”

Those moments were a snapshot of what made Craven the 2017 Forsyth County News’ Girls Soccer Player of the Year.