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Lacrosse: Lambert downs Centennial to capture program's 5th state title
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Lambert players hoist senior goalkeeper Zach Vlajk on their shoulders Saturday after beating Centennial in the Class 6A-7A state championship game. - photo by David Roberts

By McClain Baxley

For the Forsyth County News

As the 2021 boys lacrosse season grew closer, Josh Sagel didn’t really know what to expect.

Two years prior in Lambert’s last playoff appearance, he helped his team onto the buses, consoling them after an overtime loss in the state championship to Walton. Then in 2020, the Longhorns went 5-0 against Georgia teams before having their season end in March because of COVID-19.

“It’s been two years since we’ve even had playoffs,” Lambert’s head coach said. “In effect, we lost two senior classes — no real offseason to see what we had. We had no idea.”

But as has been the case four times before this season, Lambert had all the makings of a state championship team, with few regular-season losses, a veteran offense and the opportunity to face Centennial in the playoffs.

And for the fifth time in program history, the Longhorns stormed the field, raised the state championship trophy high and cut down the lacrosse goal nets as Lambert defeated Centennial, 17-9 in Saturday’s Class 6A-7A boys lacrosse state championship.

“It’s a great feeling to be a state champion, cutting the net and being able to win a state championship, especially against my father at Centennial as head coach is a great experience,” said senior attackman Danny Kesselring. “It’s great to be a winner.”

Kesselring was the first to cut into the black nylon netting at Denmark High School that had been shot on all afternoon, which was fitting given the performance he’d just displayed against his father’s team. The senior scored the first two goals of the game, setting the tone for his four-goal, two-assist outing.

The first two goals of the game were assisted by fellow senior and Lambert team captain Drew Kotanian. In his final outing as a Longhorn, Kotanian racked up three assists to go with his goal in the second quarter.

Kotanian and nine other seniors wearing white and chrome were sophomores in the state championship loss to Walton in 2019, which made Saturday’s win that much sweeter.

“2019 was sad, but this was like we finally did it. We’re done,” Kotanian said. “It’s amazing. It’s what we’ve been dreaming of since 2019.”

Like all of the past 10 meetings between Centennial and Lambert, it was a close game for the majority of the afternoon.

After senior midfielder Tanner Overbay’s stepdown shot early in the second quarter made it a 6-1 Lambert advantage, the Knights went on a 6-2 run. Suddenly, the faceoffs that had been fairly even for much of the game were rolling in Centennial’s favor.

Sensing momentum slipping and with his lead cut to one just 10 seconds into the second half, Sagel called a timeout.

Lambert won the ensuing faceoff, held a minute and a half-long possession and regained the two-goal lead when sophomore attackman Evan Suh found senior attackman Andrew Zeman. 

From that goal on, the celebration began. Between Kesselring waving to the Centennial student section after every Lambert goal and the Longhorn students chanting for players who didn’t see the field much, it was a moment and an afternoon that the Longhorns had been yearning for since that 2019 loss.

The last quarter was filled with unusual suspects making their way onto the scoresheet. Senior longstick midfielder Robert Fenters scored via a give-and-go with Kotanian. Senior faceoff specialist Jack Wise won the draw, went down and buried an unassisted goal.

And after the photos with the trophy, the Longhorns carried senior goalkeeper Zach Vlajk over to the student section after his nine-save performance.

Sagel said he saw championship potential in his squad around midseason.

“Right after spring break we had a couple of close overtime wins and we were like, ‘We might be getting to put some stuff together,’” Sagel said. “We thought we could be pretty good, but not this good. This is a surprise for everyone.”

Kesselring saw it sooner.

“Right after the first game against Walton when we won by one goal, we knew we had a chance to win the whole thing and compete with any team in the state,” the senior said.

The fifth state championship is now tied with Westminster for the most in GHSA boys lacrosse history, though the Longhorns have reached the feat in almost half the time.

Sure Sagel will be looking to replace 11 seniors, but with the way this program is built, the expectation to be playing in the state championship game will remain the same.

"[Competing for titles] is a good problem to have,” Sagel said, grinning as he clutched the state championship trophy. “Having to play an extra month of the season is something I’m never going to complain about at all. We’ll take a couple days to let this one sink in and then we’ll start preparing for next season.”

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- photo by David Roberts