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Tough schedule prepared Lambert boys' lacrosse for playoff run
Longhorns face Roswell in Class AAAAAA championship Saturday
LambertSemis 13 web
Despite several returning players from last season's state runner-up team, Lambert boys' lacrosse evolved this season with the emergence of young talent to again reach the state championship game. - photo by Micah Green

Lambert at Roswell

When, where: Saturday, 7 p.m., at Ray Manus Stadium in Roswell.

Records, rankings, seedings: Lambert is 17-4, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAAA and the No. 3 seed from Area 3; Roswell is 16-3, ranked No. 4 and the No. 2 seed from Area 2.

What to know: Here’s Roswell’s chance for revenge. Lambert eliminated the Hornets in the Class AAAAAA semifinals last season. This time, Roswell got by Walton with a 12-8 victory to reach its first ever state championship game. The Hornets are a junior-heavy team, most notably at attack. Preston Tippett has a team-high 101 points (59 goals, 42 assists), while Andrew Thomas leads the team with 62 goals. Two more juniors in Garrett Blake (20 goals) and Tanner Schneider (24 goals, 12 assists) lead Roswell’s midfield. It’s a pair of seniors in James Blyth and Zach Hemanus who have been Roswell’s lockdown defenders.

The Hornets lost 10-9 to Lambert on March 12, a game which Roswell led 9-4 at one point, but coach Alex Chrzanowski said his team “has evolved considerably since then. We’re glad we get a chance to play this game and show how far we’ve come.”

Lambert, meanwhile, is making its fourth straight state championship game appearance. The Longhorns lost 15-12 to Centennial in last season’s state final. That was considered one of the program’s youngest teams, and a bevy of talent, led by five college signees – Sean Carruthers (Mercer), Connor McCann (UMBC), Nick Shumate (Young Harris), Spencer Wilson (Furman) and Logan Wood (UMBC) – has the Longhorns back where it’s used to being.

The Longhorns, too, feel they’re a different team since that March 12 meeting with the emergence of faceoff specialist Trey Arnold, freshman midfielder Eric Overbay, defensemen Brady Burman and Justyn Jean-Felix, and attackmen Hayden Barnes and Hunter Shepherd. And few teams have faced a tougher schedule this season than Lambert, whose played 16 games against top 10 teams from California, Florida and Georgia.

How they got here: Lambert defeated North Gwinnett (11-3), Harrison (8-7) and Milton (10-8); Roswell defeated East Coweta (15-6), Centennial (x-x) and Walton (12-8).

The season was on the line, but Lambert Longhorns boys’ director of lacrosse Rich Wehman noticed his team jovial and relaxed.

An hour before Lambert played Milton in the Class AAAAAA semifinals, Wehman walked around players as they sat in rows on the field stretching. He heard them banter and chatter, seemingly unfazed by the moment or the opponent.

"They were as loose as could be," Wehman said. "They were just having a good time. I think that helps."

It was a good result, too – Lambert stormed out to an early lead and held on for a win to reach the state championship game against Roswell on Saturday at 7 p.m., at Ray Manus Stadium.The road to the Longhorns’ fourth straight state championship appearance was a gauntlet against No. 9-ranked North Gwinnett, No. 1 Harrison and No. 2 Milton. But Lambert was prepared.

Entering Saturday’s game, the Longhorns have faced 16 teams from California, Florida and Georgia ranked in the top 10 of their respective polls, according to Laxpower.com. They played in the AJO4LAX Fest and the Legacy Lacrosse Cup, two of the state’s premier high school lacrosse showcases. They travelled to Florida over spring break to play two teams with a combined 12 district championships.

All of which makes Saturday’s meeting with No. 4 Roswell (16-3) feel less daunting to the Longhorns (17-4).

"I think the coaches have prepared us perfectly by giving us such a hard schedule," senior attackman Spencer Wilson said. "Playing in situations like this – maybe not as big of a crowd, but definitely big competition – I think we’re definitely ready."

"The whole season we’ve been playing top teams constantly," freshman middie Eric Overbay said. "The regular season definitely helped us."

That grueling schedule was the perfect testing ground for returning players who had to step into new roles or new players entering the program.

Overbay was a perfect example. Wehman said he had seen Overbay before joining the team and thought he had the skill to contribute on the field this season. Then came tryouts, and Wehman saw a poised demeanor in Overbay that belied his age. Now, Overbay plays with Lambert’s first midfield.

"He didn’t act or play like a freshman during tryouts," Wehman said. "Sometimes [freshmen] are a little more tentative. You can see the have skill, but they’re a little more tentative. He came out and had a quiet confidence about him."

Surprises came all over the field.

Sophomore Trey Arnold took over at faceoffs, but Wehman said he didn’t expect Arnold to dominate in the way that he has this season. Justyn Jean-Felix started on defense as a freshman last season, but Wehman said he was conservative. Wehman said he challenged Jean-Felix to "be more of a dominant force" this season. "I think that he has stepped into that role," Wehman said.

There was junior Justin Blastick stepping in at middie ("He’s just gotten better and better," Wehman said.). There was junior Hunter Shepherd and sophomore Hayden Barnes emerging as third attack options ("We needed that third attackman to come in, and they did," Wilson said.). There was sophomore Brady Burman stepping up on defense to augment seniors Dillon Alexander and Logan Wood and Jean-Felix.

"All these young kids are coming in and they’re really filling in those spots," Wilson said.

Wilson helped manage that influx of talent and confluence of roster changes. A co-captain this season along with senior attackman Sean Carruthers, the two set tone of the leadership by Lambert’s upperclassmen.

"I think the fact that some of younger guys are playing better is the fact that they feel comfortable because those guys have gone out of their way to make them feel comfortable," Wehman said.

And so together, they navigated the state’s fourth toughest schedule, according to Laxpower, with only four losses – each by just one goal, one in overtime and another in double overtime.

Lambert feels it’s seen it all this season. Its upperclassmen already had. Some, like Wilson, are playing in their third state championship. Senior long-stick middie Connor McCann is playing in his fourth.

Now, the Longhorns feel that Arnold, Barnes, Overbay and the rest of the newcomers are ready for the atmosphere and urgency that await them Saturday at Roswell.

"If everybody does their part and knows what they have to do and executes, than we can win," Overbay said. "But any tiny slip up, any little mistake, can lead to a chance in momentum. We really got to keep focus, stay calm and execute."