The Lambert boys lacrosse team couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.
At this year’s National High School Lacrosse Showcase in Maryland from July 6-8, the Longhorns gave themselves the moniker of ‘little ol’ Lambert’. There was a good reason for that – the Longhorns were ranked outside the Top 25 in the nation and set to play a throng of nationally-recognized high school teams, most of them from the Mid-Atlantic, some of them with highly-touted recruits.
None of that fazed the Longhorns, who after going a perfect 4-0 in pool play, became the only public school to make the tournament’s playoff round of eight.
Things didn’t always turn out well for Lambert on that stage. The Longhorns went 0-6 during their first appearance at the showcase a few seasons ago. Year after year, though, they continued to make the trip and began to reap the benefits. Last year, they amassed a 4-2 record there.
“I think a few years back, we just had the courage to go up there and play,” Lambert boys director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said. “I remember when we first went up, people were like, ‘You’re crazy. There’s no way you’re going to compete.’ I think that people just started to believe, and I can tell you that we’ve been up there enough and we’ve beaten enough good teams now over a period of time that we’re no longer a secret when we’re up there.
“You don’t play a bad game. Everybody is either a state champion or a state runner-up or a semifinalist. It’s the best teams in the country.”
With no graduating seniors participating, one of the main purposes for the tournament is for teams to improve themselves and for younger players to get adjusted to their new roles. For Lambert, a lot of those new jobs came on defense. The Longhorns were also looking for a new player to take faceoffs, with the graduation of Phil White from last season’s team.
“You really kind of see two things,” Wehman said. “You see some guys who are going to be seniors that still had sort of a back-seat role last year. The other thing is, we (brought) a lot of kids from our JV last year, or played varsity and didn’t get a lot of time. We had some kids in there that just stepped in. Rob Fenters is a good example – he played JV the entire year and he played. As coaches, we watched him and were like, ‘Wow, that kid really excelled this weekend.’ We get those kind of questions answered for us.”
That doesn’t mean the event can’t mean something more, though. Lambert was one of just two Georgia teams to make the trip north, and the only team from the Southeast to make the playoff round.
“I think we take it upon ourselves to be like, ‘We’ve got to make a name for the South,’” said attacker Gerard Kane, who was named to the all-tournament team. “Going into it, I knew I had a little chip on my shoulder just for the fact that we weren’t recognized in the Top 25 at all. We just think the South has something to prove.”
Lambert had quick success in the tournament, with the Longhorns securing a 7-6 overtime win over Loyola Blakefield during their first game of pool play. After more wins against Episcopal (Va.), St. Alban’s and Lincoln Sudbury, Lambert opened the playoff round against a familiar foe – Baltimore’s Calvert Hall, which had defeated the Longhorns two times in previous years. It was the defining moment of the tournament for Lambert, especially for the rising seniors.
“I think our seniors really tried to take it down as, ‘We’re just as good as them,’” Kane said. “They can have as many recruits (as they want). We believe in what we have.’”
For much of the first half, that belief translated to production. The Longhorns fell behind early against the Cardinals, but they were still pleased about how well they played defensively against one of the best teams in the tournament. Down 4-2 midway through the second half, Lambert was still within reach of a comeback as the clock ran down.
“I think they might have scored on the first possession, but after that, they came down twice and we played really long sets of defense,” defenseman Jack McClure said. “They ended up shooting the ball, and it was an outside shot so we were fine with that. Our goalie made a save, and after that we all came together and said, ‘We can do this. We can hang with these guys. They just took one of their best shots and they couldn’t score on us.’”
Ultimately, Lambert fell to Calvert Hall 6-2, and was knocked out of the tournament with a 7-6 loss to Bullis, a Washington, D.C.-area powerhouse. The loss of White, who secured the ball 80 percent of the time last season, was a painful one – Wehman said the Longhorns lost 75 percent of their faceoffs during the showcase.
Still, Lambert has had ways of retooling in the past. Coaches and players have no doubt that the cycle will continue.
“Those new guys were coming into the defense and we hadn’t been used to playing with them, but they stepped right in and they were sticking with the rotation,” McClure said. Everybody was going fast, playing hard.
“I’m really happy about how we did and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.”