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High school soccer: Area teams prepare for second round of state playoffs
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Johnson's Eliam Chavez heads the ball during a game against Cherokee Bluff at Cherokee Bluff High School on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Lakeview Academy girls soccer team and Johnson boys soccer team took completely different paths to the second round of their respective state tournaments. 

The Lady Lions made a five-hour trip south to Nahunta where they won a thriller of a match that featured two Lakeview Academy goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation to tie things up before a decider in overtime. The Knights, meanwhile, claimed a 6-0 victory at home that was never in doubt and featured nearly 30 shots on goal in the first half alone. 

But now both teams face the same situation — hosting second-round games with deep playoff runs squarely in their crosshairs. Though the schools have also had varying levels of playoff success in recent years, the coaches at both programs know what to expect in their games later this week.

“Obviously, the competition level goes up when you get into that second round game,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “Everybody’s coming in with some momentum. Everybody had a big win first round.”

It’s a reality teams all over Hall County are facing going into the week. 

In addition to the Knights and Lady Lions, the Johnson and Flowery Branch girls teams and the Gainesville, Chestatee and East Hall boys teams all advanced, with the girls second-round games coming on Wednesday and the boys playing on Thursday. 

Each group enters this stage surging with confidence after getting one playoff win under their belt.

“Just getting that first one out of the way was huge for them mentally,” Lakeview Academy coach Nathan Wallace said of his team. “I think they are a little bit more laid back. They’re still going to be a little nervous, and that’s OK. Now they’re a little bit battle-tested and ready to go.” 

And while first round wins are good for confidence, every squad knows things will only get harder from here on out. The Gainesville boys team, for example, welcomes the No. 2 ranked team in all of Region 6A in Chattahoochee on Thursday. 

Red Elephants coach Elie Viviant said at this stage of the tournament, wins and losses are often decided by the narrowest of margins. 

“We have the quality to do great things, but it’s just little things when you get to games like this,” Viviant said. “You shoot, you hit the post. They shoot they hit the post but it goes in, and they win.”

In the final days before the games are played, all the teams still alive are working to shore up their deficiencies. Gainesville is aiming to improve on the way it finishes, according to Viviant. Johnson will be working to make sure its versatile bench players are prepared to step in anywhere on the field in a pinch. 

But this deep in the season, the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the physical. Teams hoping for a chance to advance further into the tournament will have to excel at both.

“Talent can only take you so far,” Wallace said. “It’s a mentality of I’m going to play for my teammates and play for my team and do what I can to help out each other.” 

Round 2 soccer playoff schedule

A-Private:

Lakeview Academy girls vs. Holy Innocents’ Episcopal: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday

3A:

East Hall boys at Jefferson: Thursday

4A:

Flowery Branch girls vs. North Oconee: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday

Chestatee boys vs. Oconee County: 6:30 p.m., Thursday

5A: 

Johnson girls at Carrollton: 5:30 p.m., Wednesday

Johnson boys vs. Villa Rica: 7 p.m., Thursday

6A:

Gainesville boys vs. Chattahoochee: 7:30 p.m., Thursday

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