Winning never gets old for Drew Ferrer.
Over the last few years, he’s been used to high stakes and attention: After all, since Lambert High School opened 10 years ago, it’s had one of the most successful athletic programs in the state. But even as the athletic director of that esteemed program, Ferrer still finds ways to be amazed. It was easy to feel that way on May 18, the last day of the spring season, when three of his teams were competing for state titles just hours apart.
“You feel this sense of astonishment that you can have three teams playing (for a state championship) in one day,” Ferrer said. “For our whole school and a lot of the folks here, it just felt really surreal, like, ‘This is incredible.’ I think we all really had the chance to take it in and feel like this is something special that you don't get to see. As a fan, it was a lot of fun.”
Ultimately, of those three games, the Longhorns only came away with one state championship in boys soccer, which they won in dramatic fashion in the final minutes of regulation. The normally dominant girls soccer and boys lacrosse teams weren’t as lucky: They lost their title games by razor thin margins earlier that day, with those matchups being decided in penalty kicks and sudden death overtime, respectively.
Those results played a critical role in the race for the Director’s Cup, which Lambert had won four years in a row. That streak was finally snapped this year, with Lambert finishing second behind Walton. Still, finishing second in the state in athletic success is no easy feat, and the Longhorns had a lot to celebrate as the year went on.
Lambert came away with four state titles this year in boys soccer (their second straight), girls tennis (their first ever), girls golf and competition cheer, and the Longhorns easily could have added more. Along with boys lacrosse and girls soccer, boys swimming, boys cross country and gymnastics each finished as state runners-up.
Region titles: 6
Team state titles: 4
Individual state titles: 4
Director’s Cup finish: 2nd in Class 7A (4th in boys, 2nd in girls)
Best boys state finish: 1st in soccer
Best girls state finish: 1st in cheerleading, tennis, golf
A good amount of role players on those teams are gone now, but as Lambert enters its second decade of existence, Ferrer is confident in where his program is. It’s his hope that over the next 10 years, Lambert can create even more championship moments.
“There's just a lot of great memories with a lot of great students, coaches and the community,” Ferrer said. “I think that's what's most important: All the people and the students and the families that have come through here have built and started a really great community and school. Obviously, we're still in a great situation with a lot of great coaches and athletes. We're excited.”
Editor’s note: Responses and questions have been edited for length and clarity.
FCN: Your program’s run of four straight Director’s Cups ended this year, but with five state runners-up, that streak could have easily been extended. With how close most of the state championships were, do you feel like it was a missed opportunity?
Ferrer: It's hard to get disappointed about finishing second place in the state of Georgia in athletics. We were very proud of our students and they worked very hard. The Director's Cup is a neat and fun thing to watch because you get to kind of see how your programs do across the board from fall to spring. When you look at that, we didn't have the best fall -- in the past we've had more points (there). We were kind of behind, so our spring had to be really good, and it was. To see us get so close when we were kind of far behind was a lot of fun to watch. You can't be disappointed about finishing in second place with all the great schools we have in this state. It's been a neat run to be able to win it four times in a row, almost five. It really came down to the last few days of school, really. We could have done some things differently in the last week or so that would have put us on top, but sometimes, it just doesn't go your way.
FCN: With the amount of success that your teams have had, it seems like some players in programs like soccer, lacrosse and basketball have options to play on amateur teams and clubs outside the school. Have you seen an increase in specialization, and how do you feel about it?
Ferrer: We're always trying to promote dual-sport athletes. We love to see kids playing multiple sports -- you have a lot of specialization with volleyball and soccer and some of these other sports. I love to point out a Mitch Ganote who played point guard for us and then played on the lacrosse team as well, Ansley Dean and some of these (other) kids that played two sports for us. We have a lot of athletes that do that, which is great. It helps programs and I think it makes you a better athlete overall.
I think all of our coaches try to (push that). It's a tough fight because you're battling these AAU teams and these clubs and all these outside factors that we don't control. I think when it's within the school, we work really well together, but it's just trying to get the kids and the parents to understand that what these people are selling out here is not always the (best) thing. The high school experience is great for kids and we want to see them playing here.
The girls soccer team was a huge example of that. I think if you ask those girls, they'll tell you that they absolutely love playing for the high school and this atmosphere better than anything else they do. It's just unfortunate that some decisions made at the national level can impact students, and not be the best for them, I don't think. That's just my opinion.
FCN: With some key seniors leaving, some of your teams will have to do some retooling next year. What do you see in the future of those programs, and what do you have to do to keep the long string of success going?
Ferrer: Obviously when we lose seniors in some of these sports like that, it's tough. But I think our coaches have done such a good job of maintaining consistency because they do a great job of working with our younger programs, our feeder stuff on up. You look at our lacrosse program -- there's a very strong feeder system in place that they're able to create a lot of depth (in). They do a good job of getting these kids ready to play at the high school level. There's always going to be drop-off when you lose guys like Gerard Kane and some of these players we're talking about that are just fantastic seniors for us. But I think it's a chance for someone else to step up, and it's a chance for us to see who's going to be the next Gerard Kane and the next Brendan Wehman, or whoever it might be that can step up and do it. I think we have guys that are ready to do it. I like seeing our new seniors coming up for the new year, because you're going to see who's going to step up and lead.