West Forsyth’s girls lacrosse team knows exactly what they’re in for whenever it’s time to play Lambert.
But no matter how many times the Wolverines and Longhorns have faced off in the last few years, the emotions and the physical nature of their meetings have never let up. It was no different on Thursday night, and in the heat of a close game, West, leading by just a few goals, was feeling the effects of another chippy game.
Along with those emotions, tight officiating led to a less-than-advantageous situation for the Wolverines in the games’ final minutes. West played almost the entire second half a man down, and part of it with a two-man disadvantage.
“We're both very aggressive teams so I think all of us were kind of prepared coming out here,” West senior Savannah Sabol said. “I think we all got a little nervous but we were like, 'We've just got to play a little bit better. We know how to play defense well. We need to play defense the way we know how to play defense and not just get angry because they're getting angry, too.'
“We came over (to the sideline) and all had a big talk that really got us back together, just connected again and ready to go.”
While Lambert was able to close the gap in the game’s last few minutes, second-half goals from Jenna Burrow and Cami Merkel were enough to stave off the Longhorns, with the Wolverines coming away with an 11-9 rivalry win.
“It's everything,” Sabol said. “It's a good win for us. We needed that to start off our season. That's only our third game. To start off the season like that with a bang, it's huge. It's a great feeling.”
West’s night started quickly, with three goals in the game’s first 10 minutes from Sabol, Burrow and Merkel. The Wolverines were winning the early draws, but the Longhorns responded just as quickly, with Ellie Kotanian, Carlee Talty and Emmy Price scoring three straight to tie it at 3-3 with 14:24 left in the first half.
“For the last two years our region has run through West Forsyth,” Lambert coach Travis Church said. “We came into this game knowing it. We came in with nothing really to lose and I think we played that way tonight.
“There were a handful of moments in that game where we could have rolled over and said, ‘Just another game against West, here we go again,’ and we didn't.”
By the end of the first half, West had regained the lead, albeit a slim one, at 6-5. Burrow began the second half with her third goal of the night, but after two scores from Lambert’s Lauren Gray and Talty, the game was tied again while West battled through penalties.
“I think at that point you try to get your best athletes on the field so you can keep up with their speed,” West coach Chris Kiefer said. “Another thing is you just try to make better choices. Sometimes you make bad choices and the ball gets away from you. We've just got to make better choices.”
Burrow gave West the lead back with 11:40 left to play, and with two Merkel scores and another from Madison Houlberg, the Wolverines were up 11-7 with 7:29 to play. Talty and Gabby DiVirgilio combined for a pair of scores in the last six minutes, but West held on for the two-point victory.
“We beat them with two men down, and we were still scoring goals,” Kiefer said. “That's impressive for these young ladies to get after it like that.”
Despite the loss, Thursday was a confidence booster for the Longhorns, who put up a fight and more than held their own against a team that brought back almost everyone from its 2019 Final Four run.
“We came up a little bit short, but I know for a fact that we made a statement tonight,” Church said. “I think we'll open up some eyes across the state, that Lambert lacrosse is a new Lambert lacrosse and we're not to be trifled with.”