To prepare the Lambert girls soccer team for the Class 7A state championship game, Longhorns head coach Scott Luthart told the story of a horse.
It was about the autopsy of Secretariat, how after the Triple Crown winner’s death, a veterinarian discovered a heart that was around twice the size of a normal horse’s.
Lambert was Secretariat in this analogy, of course: tremendously successful, but not in a way that’s obvious at a glance. And such a judgment wouldn’t have been favorable to the Longhorns on Saturday as the faced Grayson, a team that outstripped them both in size and experience.
But two minutes and one second into the first period of extra time, Alisa Barr, the smallest player on the field, outran the defense, collected a free kick from M.E. Craven and slotted home the goal that would give Lambert a 2-1 win and the state championship, the first in program history.
“As young as we are, I don’t think anybody but the people on our roster and our coaching staff really thought we had a fighting chance to make it this far, let alone win the whole thing,” Luthart said.
Saturday was also an opportunity for Lambert (20-3-0) to find revenge, as it was Grayson who beat the Longhorns, 5-0, in the Class 6A championship game two years ago.
It became clear quickly that this year’s game wouldn’t resemble that one. Lambert struck first 21 minutes in, when senior Maddie Eddleman took a corner kick, collected the rebound and hit a shot from the left side that snuck just under the crossbar.
The lead lasted until halftime, but not much longer: Less than a minute into the second half, Grayson forward Brittany Montgomery took a touch towards the center of the field and hit a left-footed strike that went off the crossbar, then off Lambert goalkeeper Jordyn Ebert and into the goal.
It was a shock for Lambert, a team that hadn’t allowed a goal since early April, but not one without utility.
“I think it also got us back in the game, kind of,” Craven said. “Because it woke us up.”
Both teams had promising runs in the opposing half later on, but neither could put anything in. That put the possibility of a penalty kick shootout ever closer for the Longhorns.
That was a situation in which Lambert had found success this season, winning all three of shootouts in which they’d taken part. But in their last practice before Saturday, the Longhorns found themselves cursed, with shot after shot banging off the posts.
But Barr’s goal, off a long free kick from Craven that fell to a pack of Lambert players on the left side of the box, put that possibility far away. The Longhorns planned to fall back on defense in the second extra time period, but they kept winning balls and wound up bleeding the clock out deep in Grayson’s half.
Lambert rejoiced in the win when time expired, mobbing together multiple times, dumping a bucket of water on Luthart and lifting Barr up as she clutched the championship trophy.
The championship was a timely one: the first for a group of decorated seniors in Eddleman, Ebert and Daniela Conroy, but also the last before the implementation of a rule preventing players at the top level of club soccer from playing for their high school teams.
The Longhorns know that they’ll lose significant amount of talent by next year, potentially from the deep, talented group of sophomores and freshmen that drove them to a title this year. Craven, a junior committed to play at Auburn, said she isn’t sure what she’ll do.
They’ll confront that later, though. For Lambert, Saturday was about making sure a charmed, dominant season ended like it was supposed to.
“We wanted revenge, but I don’t think it was about revenge,” Eddleman said. “I think it was for us, for each other.”