After the Lambert boys’ soccer team saw their dominant facade crumble in a 30-minute stretch on March 23, Longhorns head coach Chris Wilson made a decisive move.
“I just basically said, ‘All the decisions that were made, who was put in goal, what was going on on the field, that was all on me,’” Wilson said. “I mean, how else do you lose a 3-0 game?”
Wilson took all of the blame, and then the Longhorns used the situation as motivation. They had three more region games, in which they beat West 4-1, Central 1-0 and Milton 6-0. So while South Forsyth had the edge on that night in March, tying the game at 3-3 by the end of regulation and winning in penalties, Lambert has the No. 1 playoff seed. They’re set to begin their postseason journey tonight against Mill Creek.
The Longhorns and War Eagles wound up finishing with the same 9-1 record in the region, but Lambert took the tiebreaker over South and undoubtedly had the more impressive team performance in region play.
Lambert scored 40 goals, twice the War Eagles’ total, and allowed just four. They’ve done it in a more diverse manner than last year, when Eoin Griffiths and Zane Ziegler comprised most of the Longhorns’ offense. This year, Hayden Fontana and Logan Racine are in double digits, but a larger group behind them is contributing.
Lambert worked in plenty of subs against North Gwinnett and Harrison, games that came after playoff seeds had been determined, and still scored five goals against the Bulldogs and six against the Hoyas. Much of the Longhorns’ balance also stems from their possession-heavy attack.
“We’ve heard many coaches and players say that our possession is insane,” Racine said. “That’s why so many teams go high press against us, because if they can stop possession, they have a chance.”
But then comes the matter of getting past Lambert’s defense. The group of players like Christian Girard and Jay Patterson has succeeded even with an inconsistent goalkeeper situation.
Chris Smith, the starter to begin the season, broke his hand and wrist in Lambert’s first game against Central, and the Longhorns have gone with junior Jackson Carter and sophomore Cole Scott since, with Scott being the choice heading into the postseason.
“I don’t know how many high schools would be able to do that,” said Wilson of his team’s ability to adjust and rotate keepers.
That statement could also apply to the Longhorns’ composition. Lambert has just three seniors – Racine, Girard and Sreekar Kanaparti – but 13 juniors. Many of those players are the siblings of former Longhorns, and most have a year or multiple years of varsity experience.
“This year feels like there’s not much of a separation,” said junior midfielder Trey Hines, one of the team’s captains. “…I don’t know if we really recognize everybody as seniors or juniors. We’ve all kind of been leaders on our team.”
If nothing else, it made for a quick Senior Night ceremony last Friday before the game against Harrison.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” Racine said. “It was more for our moms.”