Tennis: Lambert boys top Etowah for first-ever state title
JONESBORO — It happened so quickly that almost no one realized it.
As Lambert senior Jack Metzger went to the net and shook hands with Etowah’s Cole Heller, having just won the No. 2 singles match, the last point of the No. 1 doubles match fell in favor of the Longhorns’ Spencer Brown and An Lenka.
Team parent Mark Dubin let out a yell, both arms shooting up in the air. Brown and Lenka were still forming the realization as a teammate rushed onto the court to celebrate.
But the reality soon quickly came in to focus: Lambert’s boys tennis had won the Class 7A state championship, the first state title in program history, by a three matches-to-none margin over Etowah.
The ending sequence was an apt representation the program’s current state: A senior in Metzger ending his career strong, and a pair of freshmen setting a strong standard for their theirs.
In fact, all four of Lambert’s top doubles players – Brown, Lenka and No. 2 pair Simon Dubin and Anu Bandy – are freshmen.
“That bodes well for our future,” Longhorns head coach Eric Hampton said. “As long as they keep playing and training and improving, I’m positive about our future.”
The Longhorns’ state title almost surely wouldn’t have happened, though, without the contributions of their seniors, Metzger and No. 1 singles player Will Harper.
That Lambert would even have that duo in the first place wasn’t a certainty heading into the season. Both had already made college plans – Harper will play at Dayton and Metzger at Sewanee – and there was an undeniable appeal to sitting out the high school season and concentrating on their schoolwork.
But both players saw the appeal of a possible state title run, with them being seniors and the newly formed Class 7A diluting the competition, and Harper and Metzger decided to play.
“It’s definitely more rewarding to share an experience like this with a team,” Harper said. “Singular success, it’s always nice, and you’re responsible for your own ups and downs, but when you come together as a team … nothing is more special than that.”
Harper was the first to finish on Saturday. He had lost his first match of the season in the state semifinals to Norcross’ Sean McKendree, and while Harper was facing a player with similar skills in Etowah’s Josh Raab, who brought a long, rangy frame and strong pace on his shots, Harper played a crafty, refined game low on unforced errors.
“I was just ready to neutralize and play great defense,” Harper said. “That’s really all it was today – he would just cough up errors. I didn’t really have to do anything special besides just hold my ground and wait for the error.”
Harper’s win was Lambert’s first of the day by a good margin. But when the second win came, the third took almost no time in following.
After the players had their initial celebration, they posed for their parents to take pictures and received hats and shirts from the GHSA for the win.
Then the teams’ younger players grabbed the trophy and gathered for a selfie. Metzger was the last to notice, and with a yelp, he rushed and got in the frame just before the picture was taken.
Lambert 3, Etowah 0
No. 1 singles
Will Harper def. Josh Raab, 6-3, 6-1
No. 2 singles
Jack Metzger def. Cole Heller, 6-3, 6-1
No. 1 doubles
Spencer Brown, An Lenka def. Austin Mangold, Adam Kuhnel, 7-6, 6-2