The day after the biggest win in school history was no time for a grueling practice, so the Lambert girls soccer team lined up Wednesday in four groups of six players for a contest. At all of its most critical junctures this season, the Lady Longhorns had found a means off the field to stabilize its performance on it. Days away from facing No. 2-ranked Grayson in Lambert’s first state championship appearance in program history, head coach Scott Luthart explained the rules of a new game.
The ball would start at the front of the line, and the first Lady Longhorns player had to roll it to the back through the legs of her teammates. The last player would pick up the ball, weave through her teammates to the front and roll the ball to the back again. First team to cycle through all six players would win.
At Luthart’s mark, the game began. It quickly developed into a jumbled frenzy. Junior midfielder Keely Cartrett collapsed on the ground when her group finished (“Guys, that was so much fun,” she said.) Another group proclaimed itself the runner-up, but junior forward Maggie Hanusek protested in support of her group (“No, WE were second!” she declared.) When Cartrett’s group won the second round, they immediately broke into singing Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
The scene illustrated perhaps the main reason Lambert (20-2) transformed itself in one season into one of the state’s elite teams. The Lady Longhorns are talented with two Division I recruits in Cartrett (Alabama) and Maddie Eddleman (Vermont) and the Region 6-AAAAAA Player of the Year in senior forward Emily Haugen. But even more impactful has been the comradery Lambert developed.
“That’s probably the biggest difference this year,” senior defender and team captain Kat Matthews said. “I think we play more as a team this year instead of just relying on individuals.”
“They’re as close as any group I’ve ever had,” Luthart said.
It started with a sleepover. Or, as Cartrett called it, a “newbie orientation.” Along the way, small but meaningful rituals arose. Pre-game lunches from Which Wich. Late-night runs to Taco Mac after games. It worked – after a season-opening loss, the Lady Longhorns won a school-record 11 straight games.
“We focused more on building a soccer family,” Cartrett said. “We’re all best friends, and we do everything together. I think that’s contributed so much on the field, because we’re so connected.”
When the team did hit adversity, it stepped away from the soccer field for answers. After a sluggish 1-0 victory against Etowah on Senior Night, Luthart cancelled the next day’s practice. Instead, the team went bowling, and there was a clear winner.
“Evan Bowland,” Cartrett said. “Her name has ‘bowl’ in it, and she was amazing.”
“It was fun,” Luthart said. “We had a ball. It was their usual goofiness off the field.”
On the precipice of the biggest game in program history, Lambert plans to adhere to the rituals it has all season. There will be a team walk-through Saturday morning, then a breakfast. They’ll get on a charter bus and head for Macon.
But the Lady Longhorns will be sure to stop for a Which Wich lunch on the way, and they’re hoping for one final celebratory late-night meal at Taco Mac.