It’s not just that Lambert had arguably it’s best athletic year in school history, even by its own lofty standard. Lambert won the Regions Director’s Cup in the state’s highest classification for the third straight season, finishing in first place for both boys and girls, with five state championships, 11 region championships and every sport represented in postseason play.
But Lambert’s athletes and teams made it a thrilling ride for fans.
Girls basketball won its first region championship, yes, but it was a 59-58 victory against county rival North Forsyth that came down to one decisive free throw by junior M.E. Craven with 4.5 seconds left. A few weeks later, Lambert’s boys basketball team won its first round state playoff game for the fourth straight season, but it took a jumper by Andrew Melms just before the buzzer.
Girls soccer won its first-ever state championship, but it took until overtime. Girls golf won its fifth straight state title, but it took a playoff hole while bystanders lined the fairway and green to watch the drama. Boys tennis won its first-ever state title, but not without a tense 3-2 win against Norcross in the state semifinals that came down to the last match. Cheerleading defended its state title, but only by a single point against rival South Forsyth.
Every season, Lambert athletic director Drew Ferrer watches it all unfold, usually from some inconspicuous corner of the sideline, often with principal Gary Davison by his side, and he said this school year was more memorable than most.
“I think it has a lot to do with knowing our kids,” Ferrer said. “We take a lot of pride in getting to know our students and build relationships. When you know them like that, it’s fun to see them perform at that level and see them perform late in games like that.”
Lambert Year in Review
Region titles: 11
Team state titles: 5
Individual state titles: 0
Director’s Cup finish: 1st in Class 1A (first in girls, first in boys)
Best boys state finish: First, cross country and tennis
Best girls state finish: First, cheerleading, golf and soccer
College signees: 46
Athletic participation: 974 (556 boys, 418 girls)
FCN: Could you tell early on this past school year that you had a chance to win the Director’s Cup again?
Ferrer: “It was definitely the best fall we’ve ever had, with volleyball making the deep run. Softball making it to Columbus. Football wins their first region championship and won their first playoff game, which is a great stepping stone for them. Our boys cross country obviously had a great season and came up with a huge win at the state meet, and our girls finished top 10. And, of course, our cheerleaders won again.
“I knew we had a great fall, probably the best fall we’ve ever had, because you saw volleyball make a deep run, softball get farther than they’ve ever been before and some of those things. I knew we had a really good fall. It was neat for a lot of different teams.”
FCN: How did you feel things worked out with girls basketball assistant coach Carolyn Whitney taking over for head coach Jaime Fisher during the team’s playoff run?
Ferrer: “You knew it was probably going to happen. Obviously, (Fisher) did a great job of getting them ready. And then Coach Whitney and all the other coaches stepped up and did a great job. Our players handled it very well. Pretty much program-wide, they did a great job to continue to run as normal and continue that run through the playoffs.
“A lot of credit to Carolyn for stepping up and doing a great job. She was obviously a great player (at Wesleyan and Georgia Southern). She was a good young coach. It definitely caught the eye of some people, and she got an opportunity (at Brookwood), which is great.”
FCN: Anything surprise you this season?
Ferrer: “There were a couple of groups that I wasn’t sure how it would be this year being that we replaced a lot of people.
“Baseball is one of them. We had a lot of kids that didn’t have a lot of experience on the field. It wasn’t like they were young. They just didn’t have a lot of game experience. To see that group win the region was a great feat.
“To look at our boys soccer, our girls soccer. Both of them were fairly young. Both of them ended up doing great in the region, and obviously girls soccer team made a huge run (in the state playoffs) and did outstanding.
“You look at girls lacrosse, to make the leaps and bounds; they did was incredible.”
FCN: Was there anything you learned with the new regions and areas this school year?
Ferrer: “Moving up to (Class) 7A, it was exciting to have a season against our county schools. I love playing against our county competition. It was fun. It was good to see friends and administrators that we’ve known for a long time in region play.
“I thought our region represented extremely well throughout the state all year. Had a lot of teams do really well. So that was kind of fun.
“I think there are some areas where you hope the state takes notice too. With our areas, when you look at volleyball and golf, you look at who went deep in the playoffs, and a lot of times it was our (teams). Volleyball had two teams from here go (to the state semifinals). Golf, where you had in the top 10 I think six schools from our area. So you hope they’ll continue to look at that and say, we need to add teams or whatever, to make sure the right teams are represented at state.
“I don’t know what the GHSA is going to do with power ratings. A lot of our coaches have talked about seeing if you’re already doing a power rating system for one sport for that extra playoff spot, why not look at doing it for the whole playoff scheme, so we’re not having teams playing (against each other) in the first round who are both capable of going deep in the playoffs. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
FCN: After the GHSA’s tumultuous school year, where do you feel that organization stands?
Ferrer: “I rely on (Forsyth County Athletic and Activities Coordinator) Nathan (Turner) for a lot of this, because he’s very involved. Obviously, I think them going another direction with another director might be a good thing. I think when things happen, like happened at Grayson this year with the amount of transfers they had with football, playing an illegal (girls soccer) player the whole year and then still getting to play in the state championship, I think that frustrates parents. Football had a lot of transfers and won a state championship, like eight players transfer - something ridiculous.
“Then you get to the soccer season and play the whole season with an illegal player. They find out before the state championship game, but yet they still play in the state championship when we have a school down the street (South Forsyth) who deserved to be in that game as well and didn’t get to – I think when that happens it really frustrates and angers a lot of people, parents especially, and they start to complain, and a lot of times they’ll complain to whoever will listen – legislators, board of education, whatever. I think that’s what draws the attention to GHSA is those types of decisions and not doing the right thing sometimes, and that’s what put them in that situation. Now going forward, I’d like to think that with the new director and maybe some new leadership maybe it will be OK.
“There’s got to be a fix for the transferring. When you go in to a season, say football or basketball, and you have a school that had five or six transfers going into it, you already know there’s probably three or four teams that have a chance to win a state championship. It’s got to be hard for those (other) coaches and players to get excited about going to play when they probably know they have no shot of playing for a state championship. Now, I’m not saying that they couldn’t do it, but it just makes it very tough when you’re not getting the same kind of transfers that the other schools are. I think that’s got to be addressed.”
FCN: The most recent idea, what was called the 50-50 rule, where an athlete would have to sit out half a season if they transferred to a school for athletic reasons – what did you think of that proposal?
Ferrer: “If someone is going to go to a school for a ring, to win a state championship, I think it doesn’t affect that. Fifty percent takes out the first part of the season, but when you get to region (play) they still have a really good shot of winning. I don’t know. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I almost think if you transfer, you sit out a year. I hate it, because I know it affects kids.
“Something has to be done to stop what’s going on with high school sports, because it takes a lot of the peer-fun, student-athlete experience out. I think it changes the landscape of high school athletics, and I don’t like that. Especially when I feel like a lot of our schools in Forsyth County are doing it the right way. We don’t have the same opportunities to move in to apartments or do some of that, so we’re all pretty much trying to do the right things and build programs and work to get to a certain point. Other schools aren’t always doing that, and it’s frustrating.”
FCN: What do you see going forward for Lambert athletics?
Ferrer: “One of the projects we’re going to work on here in the next couple of years is a Hall of Fame, at the 10-year mark. I want to look at various schools. I know Central just did one, and West, and try to get ideas and criteria and how they honor them, and look at how to tweak it a little bit and make it ours.
“Which is going to be very fun but very tough too, because you’ve got 23 state champions to look at at this time. It could be a couple more by then. A couple national (champions). It’s going to be tricky to see how we induct or honor teams. But I’m going to get a committee together and try to look at putting that together.”