Whether they’re striding or limping into this week’s first round of the state playoffs, the area’s girls soccer teams will find hard matchups across the board. With winning streaks in hand, Gainesville, Buford, Chestatee and Lumpkin County are all riding the highs of their recent success. Dawson County will have to hope recent injuries don’t hamper them in a fascinating 2 vs. 3 seed matchup on Thursday, while East Hall is starring in its first ever state playoff appearance.
Meanwhile, West Hall will have the chance to pull off an upset, while Lakeview Academy hopes to extend what has already been a highly successful season.
Gainesville girls vs. Creekview
When: 6:30 p.m. today
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
Record: Gainesville (14-1, 9-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Creekview (11-6, 5-3 Region 7-AAAAA)
Coaches: Gainesville, Mark Wade; Creekview, Kerri Schmitt
Key players: Gainesville, F Alyssa Turner, D Kara England, GK Alondra Wedding
Season overview/playoff outlook: A solid back line has allowed the Lady Red Elephants to shine in region play this season.
Coach Mark Wade has allowed his defensive foursome of Dallas Robson, Elizabeth Duncan, Kara England and Alden Turner to mature over the past two years as a unit. To their credit, Gainesville earned nine shutouts in 2015, including five straight to end the season.
“Our back line has been great for us,” said Wade. “They’ve been starting ever since Day 1 of last year, and we’ve let them grow together.”
The Lady Red Elephants are potent on offense, as well. Forwards Alyssa Turner and Liz Fischer have combined for more than 50 goals this season.
Meanwhile, Creekview lost its last two road games of the season, and will travel to City Park Stadium to take on No. 1 seed Gainesville. Creekview did not make last year’s playoffs.
No. 2 Buford girls vs. Northwest Whitfield
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Buford High
Records: Buford (12-1, 8-0 Region 8-AAAA); Northwest Whitfield (4-6-2, 3-3 7-AAAA)
Coaches: Buford, Crystal Fowler; Northwest Whitfield, Anna Stutts
Key players: F Elexa Bahr, M Brie Smith
Season overview/playoff outlook: The Lady Wolves were the class of the region this year, and now they’ll get to show off that class to the state. Buford gave up just one goal in its final eight games of the season. Fowler’s team has shut out every region opponent it has faced en route to a third straight region title, with Bahr at the forefront. Midfielder Brie Smith has been known to whip in dangerous crosses and through-balls.
The Lady Wolves have only lost one game so far this season, to Class AAAAAA Peachtree Ridge on March 3. Buford will look to best last year’s appearance in the Class AAA playoffs, where it was eliminated by Blessed Trinity in the second round.
Chestatee girls vs. Heritage (Ringgold)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville
Records: Chestatee (12-6, 6-2 Region 8-AAAA); Heritage, Ringgold (6-5-1, 5-2 7-AAAA)
Coaches: Chestatee, Mark Dunn; Heritage (Ringgold), Desiree Robinson
Key players: Chestatee, GK Tyler Bennett, F Sadie Foote
Season overview/playoff outlook: The Lady War Eagles have picked up five and four-game win streaks throughout the season, and they have won three of four heading into their first-round home game against the Lady Patriots.
Consecutive region losses against Buford and North Oconee dropped Chestatee into the No. 2 seed, but since those losses, Dunn’s team has gone 7-2. Chestatee was the No. 4 seed last year, and had to play eventual champions Marist in the opening round of the 2014 tournament.
Since losing forward Taylor Buffington (13 goals) to an ACL tear just before spring break, Dunn has used a 4-5-1 formation with Foote (16 goals) as his lone striker.
Bennett has proven a worthy goalkeeper ever since the end of basketball season. She’s helped the Lady War Eagles secure seven shutouts, and did an excellent job against No. 2 ranked Buford in a 3-0 loss on April 17.
“Their confidence has gotten much better,” said Dunn. “We changed the system in the middle of the season, and they’ve bought in.”
White County girls vs. Southeast Whitfield
When: 6 p.m. today
Records: White County (10-4, 6-2 Region 8-AAAA); Southeast Whitfield (9-2-2, 5-1-1 Region 7-AAAA)
Coaches: White County, Brad Kolowich; Southeast Whitfield, Todd Close
Key players: White County, GK Adianna Ortiz, M Jenna Gearing, F Savannah McGill
Season overview/playoff outlook: Since gaining five of its eleven starters from the end of basketball season, the Lady Warriors have been on a strong run of form. White County lost three of its first four games without half of its starting lineup, but has won 9 of the last 10 games with a full-strength squad.
Goalkeeper Adianna Ortiz has recorded five shutouts so far, while midfielder Jenna Gearing has patrolled the midfield.
Head coach Brad Kolowich starts “three or four” freshmen, depending on the matchup.
“We’ve got pretty lofty goals, so we want to see how far we can take this,” he said.
Southeast Whitfield is unbeaten heading back to March 13, and has won two penalty shootouts so far this season, both against Northwest Whitfield.
No. 4 Dawson County girls vs. Morgan County
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Records: Dawson County (12-3, 5-1 Region 7-AAA); Morgan County (9-4, 4-2 8-AAA)
Coaches: Dawson County, Jed Lacey, Morgan County, Anne Stamps
Key players: F Mackenzie Callas, M Tina Libao
Season overview/playoff outlook: The Lady Tigers limp into the state playoffs after a brutal recent run of injuries have forced Lacey to overhaul his starting lineup.
Leading scorer Taylor Bennett (19 goals), starting goalkeeper Anela Melton, and starting senior defender Summer Armstrong have all been forced to the sidelines in recent weeks. Dawson County started with five seniors this year, but now only boasts two senior starters. Stepping up in Bennett’s place will be Mackenzie Callas, a sophomore with 15 goals to her name.
Lacey has typically played with three forwards in an attacking formation, which has led to 10-0 mercy rule routs over Franklin County and East Hall to end the regular season. But the competition will get tougher from here: Morgan County’s only two region losses were to teams with at least nine wins.
Look for Libao to boss the midfield, with Jessica Chambers in a holding role with her.
East Hall girls vs. No. 5 Oconee County
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Warriors Stadium, Watkinsville
Records: East Hall (3-13, 3-3 in Region 7-AAA), Oconee County (9-4, 6-0 8-AAA)
Coaches: East Hall, Chris Horton; Oconee County, Paul Dallas
Key players: East Hall, M Lauren Pope, D Jasmine Murillo
Season overview/playoff outlook: The Lady Vikings won when they needed to, and that’s what earned them a program-first playoff berth.
Horton said his team is “super excited” for playoff soccer, even against a No. 1 seed Warriors team that’s lost once in the past month.
East Hall lost all 12 of its non-conference games this season, and the Lady Vikings have scored just once in the past three games. Oconee County went undefeated in region play, and is 7-1 since March 24.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, at least four major starters throughout the season, so a lot of girls have had a lot of playing time. Hopefully this is a tradition we can keep for the future, getting kids in early.”.500
West Hall girls at Jefferson
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Records: West Hall (5-7-2, 4-2 Region 7-AAA); Jefferson (9-3-1, 5-1 Region 8-AAA)
Coaches: West Hall, Adam Johnson; Jefferson, Jeff Williams
Key players: West Hall, F Reachel Beaulieu, M Katie Kirkland; Jefferson, Liz Quilliams
Season overview/playoff outlook: Comfortable region wins over Fannin County and East Hall allowed West Hall to secure a No. 3 seed in the state playoffs, but the Lady Spartans will find a tough opponent in Jefferson.
The Lady Dragons are undefeated since March 24, and finished second only to No. 7 ranked Oconee County.
Look for West Hall winger Katie Kirkland to send in dangerous crosses to senior striker Beaulieu.
Lumpkin County girls vs. East Jackson
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Lumpkin County High, Dahlonega
Records: Lumpkin County (14-0-1, 6-0 Region 7-AAA); East Jackson (4-8, 3-3 Region 8-AAA)
Coaches: Lumpkin County, Don Brock; East Jackson, Julie Bruce
Key players: F Alexis Satterfield, D Abi Hunt
Season overview/playoff outlook: It’s been a dream season for Brock’s team, one that has the potential to finish with Lumpkin County deep in the state playoffs. Behind leading scorer Satterfield (26 goals), a group of young, but talented Lady Indians have pulled off a dominating undefeated regular season, including an upset win over region power Dawson County. The win secured Lumpkin’s first region title since 1997.
But Brock has his team dreaming higher. With his lone senior at goalkeeper, Lumpkin County has secured nine shutouts this year, and should complete its 10th against an East Jackson side that lost six straight to end the season. Lumpkin County beat East Jackson 9-0 during the regular season.
No. 8 Lakeview girls vs. Christian Heritage
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Lakeview Academy, Gainesville
Records: Lakeview Academy (10-4, 6-2 Region 8-A); Christian Heritage (4-7, 4-2 Region 7-A)
Coaches: Lakeview Academy, Nathan Wallace; Christian Heritage, Chris Massey
Key players: F Carmen Wagner, GK Ansley Rochester
Season overview/playoff outlook: Two disappointing late losses aside, the Lady Lions are in a very good position heading into the Class A playoffs. Leading scorer Carmen Wagner (30 goals) stuck five past George Walton in a recent rout, while goalkeeper Ansley Rochester has recorded three shutouts so far this season.
Lakeview lost non-region games against Johnson and No. 5 Hebron Christian, but that isn’t likely to dampen the spirits of a team that went 0-12 just two seasons ago. Wallace has got his team on the upswing. A first-round win is definitely possible against Christian Heritage, which lost four of its last five games of the season.