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Tennis: Lambert girls defeat Milton to win region championship
Lambert's girls tennis team poses for pictures after winning the Region 5-7A championship on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

For a brief moment Wednesday in the Region 5-7A tournament, everything was going wrong for the Lambert girls tennis team.

Taylor Despriet lost at No. 1 singles, while the Longhorns’ No. 2 doubles pairing of Haley Oleson and Kate Winters dropped the first set of their match. Then Oleson, who was coming off knee surgery entering the season, tweaked her non-injured knee, necessitating a 10-minute timeout to assess her ability to continue.

But eventually things turned around. Taylor’s sister, Brooke, and Kennedy Lewis finished off convincing wins at Nos. 2 and 3 singles, respectively. Oleson pushed through her injury worries, and then she and Winters pushed through their early frustrations for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory that clinched the region title after a brief two-year streak was ended last season.

“It feels good to be back on top,” Lambert head coach Lois Mickles said. “They’ve worked super hard, and they’re a great bunch of girls. I’m happy for them.”

The Longhorns were the top seed entering the region tournament, but that guaranteed nothing. Last season taught them that after they earned the top seed only to lose their first match and settle for third-place.

Lambert avoided that pitfall Monday by defeating West Forsyth to set up the finals match against Milton, and the Longhorns were supremely motivated for the chance to win the program’s sixth region title.

Indeed, they arrived to Fowler Park ready to celebrate.

“We showed up with silly string,” Winters said. “All of us are armed.”

That seemed more possible after Lewis completed her 6-0, 6-2 win. Brooke Despriet had just earlier wrapped up a 6-1, 6-3 victory, giving Lambert a 2-1 lead. Lewis rushed from the upper courts to the lower ones to join the growing crowd watch both doubles matches still in progress.

Lambert's Kate Winters returns a shot against Milton during the Region 5-7A tournament on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at Fowler Park. - photo by Brian Paglia

She had missed the most dramatic moments already, especially for Oleson and Winter.

After dropping the first set, Mickles came over to the pair for a pep talk.

“She only comes over when it’s bad,” Winters said.

“It’s what we needed to get back out there and get our heads in the game,” Oleson said.

The pair embraced Mickles’ advice in that moment and re-focused on the basics: getting in their first serves and returning serves.

“That’s doubles,” Mickles said.

The strategy worked. Lewis and the rest of the Longhorns didn’t have to wait long until Oleson and Winters completed their comeback win. Lambert’s team and fans in the nearby bleachers erupted after the final point, then processed to the upper courts to receive their region championship trophy.

After players posed for photos, it didn’t take long until conversation turned to the state tournament. Lambert has reached the state quarterfinals the past three seasons and five of the last six years, a plateau that is the source of great frustration and inspiration.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen this year,” Winters said. “We’ve been talking about it all season. We have a stellar lineup this year.”

But others were still enjoying in their present achievement. Indeed, as Winters finished those words, she turned to find Lewis charging Oleson, who got an enthusiastic blasting from silly string.

South Forsyth defeated West to secure the third seed, while the defending champion Lambert boys lost to Milton in the finals. South and West’s boys teams finished third and fourth, respectively.