Lambert's girls tennis team underwent plenty of change this season.
On the heels of a 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Longhorns not only graduated seven seniors but also had to replace longtime head coach Lois Mickles.
What stayed the same? Chalk up another region championship for Lambert, marking the girls program's third straight title dating back to the 2017-18 season.
Lambert's boys and girls tennis teams each captured the Region 6-7A championship Thursday at Fowler park, with the boys beating South Forsyth and the girls topping West Forsyth.
"It really came together with the seniors being who they are," Lambert girls tennis coach Stephen Pate said. "With Brooke [Despriet], Katie [Lewis] and Nina [Zhao], everything I asked them to do, they did. So, when they started doing it, all the other girls just fell in line. But when you coach at a school like Lambert, it's pretty easy to do your job."
Each of those seniors played a part in Lambert's victory against West, as Lewis and Zhao combined to win 6-4, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles and Despriet had a firm grasp on No. 1 singles, 7-5, 4-3, when the No. 2 doubles match on an adjacent court decided the outcome of the event.
Emily Baek swept No. 2 singles 6-0, 6-0, and Peyton Bailey fell 6-1, 6-3 in No. 3 singles, but it was a pair of juniors that sealed Lambert's fate when Riley Abellana and Sydney Winters ensured the Longhorns' region championship with a 6-2, 6-3 victory in No. 2 doubles.
"We won the state championship two years ago, but of the girls who are playing, only two of them were on that team. So, those are five new girls who are going through all of this for the first time," Pate said. "There were some nerves at the beginning of the match, because West is fantastic, but I was really impressed by how Riley and Sydney played at No. 2 doubles. That was a really, really important match for us to win, and they did a good job."
Lambert's boys were in a similar situation heading into this year, with only three returning players in Holden Artz, Matthew Lim and Samhith Aravind.
Still, the Longhorns made quick work of South, winning three of four completed matches. Braxton Wright split the first two sets against South senior Rishil Kondapaneni at No. 1 singles, 3-6, 6-3, before the match was called.
Aidan Atwood raced to a 6-0, 6-3 win at No. 2 singles, while the Longhorns collected a pair of wins in doubles play. Skyler Feng and Matthew Lim rallied in the third set to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 at No. 1 doubles. Aneesh Seemakurthy and Rithvik Suram followed at No. 2 doubles with a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
The Longhorns' only loss came in No. 3 singles, where Artz fell 6-0, 3-6, 6-0.
"I've got a bunch of young guys. Out of my starting seven, I'm only losing one guy. Everybody else returns," Lambert boys coach Eric Hampton said. "We've got a real good shot this year to go deep, especially finishing first. We're on the side of the bracket where some of the teams aren't quite as competitive as the other side of the bracket. I feel good about Lambert's boys program. We won the state championship in '17, the girls won it in '19. It's an odd year, so maybe '21 will be it for both of us."
Wright navigated a nearly perfect run through region play, winning all but one match, which came against West's No. 1 singles player Harrison Kim.
Wright, a junior, and Atwood, a freshman, each made an impact in their first season with the Longhorns, occupying the top two singles positions. Both players are also among the state's best in their respective class.
"We're so talented at the top seven," Hampton said. "It's a double-edged sword for Lambert, because we have so many great players — like I had to cut 20-something boys this year. And I'd tell you that three-quarters of them would be able to play at any other high school and start. It's a good problem to have."
Both Lambert teams will host first-round matches against the No. 4 team from Region 7-7A, which is scheduled to conclude its region tournament April 14.
South's boys and West's girls will also host playoff matches as the second-place teams out of Region 6-7A.
"Well, it's definitely the best region in the state, so you feel like you've won something already just by getting this far," Pate said. "We'll reset. We've been telling them all year that the whole goal is to play the right way and the results will come. Just do the right things and the results will come on the court. We're not changing our message for the state tournament: 'Relax, play tennis, do your job and we're pretty much going to be OK.'"