The 2013 Lambert boys’ lacrosse team was a confident bunch, perhaps to a fault.
After winning back-to-back state titles, that squad fell one game short of a trifecta — losing to rival Centennial in the Class AAAAAA final. According to head coach Rich Wehman and some veteran players, the Longhorns didn’t quite have the edge that led them to so much success in years past.
Having dealt with such little adversity, it’s hard to blame them.
"The truth is it’s really hard to win state championships," said Wehman. "Things have to go your way, you have to avoid injuries … when you lose a game like [the final] it kind of hangs around with you. It helps you get better and has helped us as a team."
That defeat in last spring’s title match served as a wake-up call for the Longhorns, who have since been a more focused group. The enhanced focus, along with several other key improvements, has led them to an impressive 10-3 start in 2014 — putting Lambert on track for another deep playoff run.
Additionally, all of Lambert’s defeats have come by just one goal.
"We’re three goals away from being undefeated, so I think everything is going about as well as it can," senior co-captain Spencer Wilson said. "We’re definitely on the right track."
"I feel like we’ve felt our team grow," said fellow co-captain Dillon Alexander. "We’re balanced out now, and it’s all coming together for us."
Wehman intentionally set up an intense schedule this year, which has provided Lambert the chance to shuffle around personnel and try new schemes against top-notch opponents. The rigorous schedule undoubtedly served its purpose, as the Longhorns have learned a lot about themselves in the process.
"Those tough games helped us settle into our best lineup," said Wehman. "We kind of laugh about it; there was never a break, never a breather there. But as we get closer to playoff time, the team gains some confidence after playing so many big games.
"They don’t get rattled, and that’s going to help us a lot."
In comparison to last year’s team, the current Longhorns roster has a number of advantages. One of the most noticeable developments comes in the face off department, where sophomore Trey Arnold has been dominant. They’re also more experienced, have strong senior leadership and possess more depth.
"I think already we’ve already improved on everything we needed to," Wilson added. "Last year I think the kids came in thinking they were going to get handed a state championship, and now we know we have to earn it."
"I’d say across the board we’re probably more solid as a team," Wehman said. "We had some holes last year. On defense, for example, we had guys who were playing for the first time. Now they have experience under their belts, and that’s a big difference."
Next up for the Longhorns is a slate of three Area 3-AAAAAA games, including a rematch against Centennial tomorrow at 2 p.m., at home. Lambert is undefeated in its area so far in 2014, but could finish the regular season anywhere from first to fifth depending on how it fares in this vital stretch.
Those three contests may set the tone for the rest of the campaign — for better or worse. But if the Longhorns can emerge from it with at least two wins, they’ll be in a great position to amend for last season’s disappointing finish.
"We have the ability to make a run for this title," Alexander said. "All we can do is take it in stride."