Players surrounded South Forsyth boys lacrosse coach Terry Wickman at the start of practice Monday, where he lauded the group for their restraint Friday.
They had gone to Milton for the Eagles’ season-finale against Area 5-6/7A opponent Cambridge because South’s state playoff fate hinged on the result. A Cambridge win, and the War Eagles were in for the first time in school history. A Milton win, and they were out again.
The teams made South hold its breath until the very end: Cambridge won, 10-9, and the War Eagles’ fate was sealed. But South players didn’t celebrate at Milton, out of respect to the Eagles’ players.
Missing the postseason is rare for Milton, but it had been all South knew before this season. The War Eagles had just two winning seasons (2006, 2009) since the program started in 2005, and they’d never won more than 10 games. The state playoff spotlight had belonged to rival Lambert.
A change of direction remedied that. South hired veteran professional coach Bob Hamley as its director of lacrosse to replace John Garrish. Wickman became a full-time coach after filling a part-time role last season.
After a 2-2 start, South won 11 of its next 12 games to finish a school record 13-5 overall, and Lambert isn’t the lone Forsyth County representative in the state playoffs. West Forsyth hosts Dunwoody, while South plays at Centennial on Thursday.
“A lot of work from everybody, from the coaching staff to the school to the players, conditioning in the fall, you name it,” Hamley said. “But really it boils down to buy-in. The players bought in to what the coaches were preaching right from day one: hard work and changing culture. Credit to our senior leadership, the kids who bought it – they brought us to where we are today.”
Hamley and staff created an identity around the team’s strong attackers, led by Max Kane and Colton Rudd. Andrew Lempner provided crucial leadership through the transition of the coaching change.
A good sign to Hamley came through the middle portion of the season as South had a string of close games at halftime it pulled out for wins.
“That’s where we really felt like we’d turned a corner,” he said.
So that South restrained themselves at Milton despite their own program’s long travails impressed Wickman. At Monday’s practice, he gave them a chance to let loose and celebrate their milestone.
But few bothered. They were focused on Centennial instead.
“They’re a very good team,” Hamley said. “Their attack’s very, very good. We’re going to have to defend that very well. We’re going to have to be prepared.”