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Lambert athletics enjoying strong start to 2022-23 school year
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Lambert volleyball celebrates defeating Brookwood in the Class 7A quarterfinals Oct. 25 in Gwinnett County. The Longhorns will look to win their first state title in program history against Buford Saturday at the LakePoint Sporting Community. (Photo by Nicholas Sullivan)

Lambert is known for having a strong athletic tradition, but the Longhorns' success this fall is virtually unprecedented. Things could get even better in the coming days as volleyball and cross country teams vie for state titles, while football and competition cheer aim for region championships.

The success of the Longhorns' fall sports teams is pushing right up the start of, and in some cases extending into, the start of winter sports season. It makes for a chaotic time period for Lambert athletic director Drew Ferrer, but he certainly isn't complaining about the heightened workload.

“Absolutely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ferrer said. “If you ever complain about teams having success in the playoffs or going far, it’s a bad time. We cherish any team having success, being able to support them and having kids do what they do. For us to go through volleyball and have a run like this, cross country, and football having a chance to go to the playoffs and host a game. All those things are such great things.

"I’ll sleep sometime later in the winter. I’ll be OK; I’ll catch up later on. Right now, I’d rather keep watching our teams do well and supporting our guys and girls.”

Well, this weekend will provide a unique opportunity for the Longhorns to challenge for several major honors.

Arguably, the biggest one comes for the volleyball program, as Lambert looks to capture its first-ever state title against Buford at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the LakePoint Sporting Community.

After winning the Region 6-7A championship for a fourth consecutive season, the Longhorns have made it through four rounds of the playoffs with only one set being dropped. That was the opening set of a semifinal match at Walton, which won the 2021 state title and has often been the one to knock Lambert out of the postseason, before the Longhorns roared back to win three straight to reach the championship match for the first time.

“Missey [Hall] has done such a great job for so many years in our program,” Ferrer said. “It’s great for our kids. So proud of her and what she’s accomplished. What the girls have done to be able to make it to the state championship, I say sometimes to go on a run like this it takes a little bit of luck, being healthy and playing good at the right time. I think they are playing very well right now.

“They played Buford, North Gwinnett and some of these schools early on, but I think we’re a different team right now. We’re playing very well, which is a great time to peak, and that speaks to Missey and her coaches to get them to peak at the right time.”

With so many programs doing well this fall, Hall enjoys being able to vie for the school's 41st team state championship since its 2009 opening.

“I’m excited about it,” she said following the Final Four victory last weekend. “We have a great community. We have a great sports history at Lambert. It’s wonderful to be a part of it.”

At the semifinal, Hall and her players received support from a huge collection of Lambert fans, including head football coach Marc Beach. The first-year head coach guided the Longhorns to a 9-0 start roughly 13 hours before the volleyball match started but still made a point to travel to Marietta to support the team.

“I think that’s the kind of environment we wanted to establish in our school to make it about all athletes, coaches and communities supporting each other,” Ferrer said. “Making it a one family, one Lambert environment.”

It's for reasons like that Ferrer knew promoting Beach from offensive coordinator to fill the head-coaching vacancy would pay off.

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Lambert's Christian Smith heads upfield against Denmark during a Region 6-7A matchup Oct. 21 at home. The Longhorns will face Milton for the region title Friday at The Horn. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)

“Having him on staff, we knew he was a great person and great for our school, in general,” Ferrer said. “When the position opened up, I had kids, parents, other coaches in the building coming to me saying, ‘Coach Beach is the guy.’ …

“When we got a chance to sit down and talk, it was very clear that Marc was the right guy for the job and just a great fit for our overall athletic program, not just football. He was very much vested in kids playing multiple sports and being supportive of that. He had good relationships with a lot of our coaches, and our kids really wanted to play for the guy. When you have kids who buy in and want to play for somebody, the result is what we have.”

Ferrer said it's been particularly enjoyable to see this year's senior class of football players get to end their career with such a dream season after three previous years full of ups and downs.

Regardless of this week's result against Milton, Lambert will be hosting a first-round playoff game for the first time since 2016, when the Longhorns won their only prior region championship. However, the team will have the opportunity to make history with a home win Friday, as no Forsyth County varsity football team has ever produced an undefeated regular season.

“This senior group has had three head coaches, and they also had a year of COVID,” Ferrer said. “They’ve really endured. They bought into what coach Beach and his staff are doing and really believing. It’s changed the whole culture. It’s great to see them have this success, because they deserve it having to endure so much during their high school years.”

To kick off the busy weekend, the Class 7A boys and girls cross country state championship races will take place at noon and 12:45 p.m., respectively, Friday in Carrollton.

Lambert's girls team recently won the Region 6-7A championship, while the boys placed second by two points. Both teams earned top-seven finishes in 2021 and could improve on those marks this time around.

“I think they have a chance to do very well at the state meet,” Ferrer said. “You know coming through our region if you win or you’re top two or three, you’re going to have a chance to place pretty high at the state meet. Our region is incredible in cross country, boys and girls.

“To be in the mix, I think we all have a chance to do well and score well at the state meet. James Tigue and his coaches run a great program and are always in the mix.”

Elsewhere, the Longhorns competition cheer team will compete for the region title this week. Lambert has won its past two competitions, including topping two-time defending 7A state champion South Forsyth in its most recent event at McIntosh, and will challenge for its seventh state title next weekend in Macon.

Even the softball program, which missed out on returning to Columbus for the state tournament, produced a noteworthy result, handing Buford — eventual 7A champion and the nation's top-ranked team — its only loss of the year in the super regional round. That 1-0 victory capped a run of 17 wins in 18 games.

In non-athletic extra-curricular activities, Lambert also won a region championship in one act play — its first since 2019 — qualifying the Longhorns for the 7A state competition Nov. 19 at Jackson County. The school's iGEM team recently went to Paris and won high school world championships in three categories, and Lambert's band has been invited to perform at the 2024 London New Year's Day Parade and Festival.

Even though flag football — a late-fall sport — is just beginning its Area 6-D3 schedule, Lambert appears set to compete for a playoff spot yet again. Meanwhile, winter sports are starting or getting ready to start their seasons. Soon basketball, swim and dive, and wrestling will be the ones carrying the proverbial torch for Longhorns athletics.

It can provide a bit of a lull around the holidays before the jam-packed spring sports schedule takes hold, offering Ferrer a brief moment to rest up ahead of a likely strong finish to the school year, as well.

“When you have success like this in the fall early on, it just creates a culture of excitement and winning,” he said. “Other teams are wanting to step up and don’t want to be the team that doesn’t do good. I’m excited to see what the winter and spring bring for us after having such a good fall.”