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There seemed to be just one possible outcome.
After the kind of season Lambert’s girls soccer team had in 2019, a victory almost seemed inevitable when the Longhorns stepped on the field at McEachern High School in Powder Springs for the Class 7A state championship.
Throughout that season, winning was automatic for them. On offense, Forsyth County News Player of the Year Madison Haugen set school records with 33 goals, 15 assists and six hat tricks, with the team scoring 108 total goals.
The defense was just as lethal. Led by senior Ellie Prybylski, the Longhorns notched 19 shutouts in their 23 games played, allowing just four total goals over the season.
That combination resulted in a 22-0 record heading into the state
championship against North Gwinnett, and while the Bulldogs were certainly
another great team, Lambert was on another level.
But the ending to Lambert’s dominant season wasn’t the charmed one it hoped for. It was one of heartbreak, with the Longhorns falling in penalty kicks for their only defeat of the year.
“I know they feel like they had a missed opportunity last year,” Lambert girls coach Scott Luthart said. “We met a team that came to play and saw them at their best, and part of what they did didn't allow us to be at our best.”
And while Prybylski has now moved on, there’s still plenty of optimism for Lambert for the 2020 season. The Longhorns bring back 11 seniors from their run to the championship, including Haugen, who has since signed to play soccer at Georgia after she graduates.
The mood with the team has been a quiet but focused one. The goal is clear, with the most of the Longhorns knowing this is their last ride together.
“I think we don't really talk about (the loss), but everyone knows that's the motivation for the season,” Haugen said. “You don't want to just dwell on it — you just have to move on.
“It's kind of more business. It's our last year, so there's no room to mess up. This is it. This is our last chance to go out with a state championship, so I think we are a little more serious.”
While Haugen figures to be the offensive leader again this year, Luthart knows that she can’t be the only source of goals for his team. With the potential for five or six starters at forward, including seniors Taylor Clark and Katelyn Castelli, there will be ways to mix scoring opportunities up.
“The challenge is to not have that be our identity,” Luthart said. “There are teams that can match up really well and double (Haugen) and triple her in some cases, so we have to be able to score from elsewhere.”
On defense, Tennessee signee Sydney Hennessey will be a key leader, but there still will be some adjustments on that side. There will be experience there, though, with Aja Celka retaking the starting role she had as a sophomore when Prybylski was at the Development Academy.
“The good news is we have players back there that have played the game for a long time,” Luthart said. “(We're) just trying to reconnect in terms of how they relate to each other and how they connect, because defense is a lot about communication and just trying to make sure we're organized.”
As the Longhorns found out in their scrimmage against Kennesaw Mountain on Jan. 30, just because they made the championship last year doesn’t mean all that success will immediately carry over. After a slow start, the Lambert took a 4-0 win in that game.
“The first half, it took us a while to get going and (have) everybody get used to each other again, but in the second half we already had more success than we did in the first,” Castelli said. “We've already seen people starting to gel and learn how to play together.”
And while most players on the team are feeling the pressure of getting back to where they were and avenging their loss at state, Castelli actually feels a little looser.
“I feel like last year, coming in, I feel like a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, are you guys going to win this year?’ They expected it,” she said.
“Since we lost, no one's expecting it, I think. We just want it more.”