It was an historic season for the Gainesville girls soccer team. As they say, though, all great things must come to an end.
Such was the case on Wednesday when the Lady Red Elephants finally met their match in athletic Allatoona, losing 3-0 at City Park Stadium in the Class AAA state semifinals.
The loss ended Gainesville’s season just a game short of the finals. The Lady Buccaneers move on to play Columbus in the championship game on Saturday.
“I told the girls I was proud of what we accomplished with this group this year,” Gainesville coach Mark Wade said after the game. “I thought we played to the best of our ability. There wasn’t a point that I didn’t think we were giving all we had.”
That was certainly the case to open the game when Gainesville had the early advantage in possession.
Over the first 10 minutes of the contest, the Lady Red Elephants pressured the Allatoona defense, maintaining possession in Lady Buccaneer territory and attempting a handful of shots that missed their targets.
In only the third minute, senior captain Liza Carpenter took possession of the ball. Carpenter passed to junior forward Hartley Carter, who had a good look on goal, but wasn’t able to connect. Another shot on the rebound yielded the same result.
Carter had another opportunity just four minutes later. Breaking toward the goal, she drew out Allatoona keeper Sarah Craig. Before Carter could get off the shot, however, Craig fell on the ball to avert the threat.
Perhaps the best chance for Gainesville came in the 14th minute, when Carpenter kicked a pass to Mary-Catherine Dempsey, who lofted a hard shot toward the goal. The ball sailed just high and wide of the crossbar.
“I think over the first 10 minutes or so, we did a great job of maintaining possession,” Wade said. “We had a couple of half-chances and played toe-to-toe with them. As (Allatoona) settled down, though, that’s when they were able to kind of take control.”
When the Lady Buccaneers did manage to put some pressure on Gainesville, they did it often.
Shortly after Dempsey’s shot on goal, in the 15th minute, Allatoona’s Kristy Wise put the first goal of the game into the back of the net.
On a break to the left of the goal, Wise beat one defender and had daylight on the right half of the goal. Taking the opportunity, Wise lofted the shot past the outstretched arms of senior Gainesville keeper Rebecca Webster to take a 1-0 advantage.
Keeping the pressure, it took the Lady Buccaneers just four minutes to take a two-goal advantage. In the 19th minute, forward Willough Davis weaved through three defenders toward the goal. Waiting until Webster committed to making a play on the ball, Davis knocked a shot into the bottom-right of the goal to take a 2-0 lead.
“I just think they’re very good,” Wade said of Allatoona. “They possess the ball very well. A team like that, they want to get you to chase them.”
The result was a speed that Gainesville just wasn’t able to catch.
Allatoona connected on its third goal of the game with just over 11 minutes remaining, effectively ending any hopes of a comeback for the Lady Red Elephants.
Gainesville keeper Webster made a nice save on a shot by the Lady Buccaneers, reaching above her head, tipping the ball once with her fingertips and then knocking it away. She wasn’t able to gain possession, however, and Allatoona’s Davis followed with a kick just past the diving keeper.
Elizabeth Fischer nearly spoiled the shutout with 30 seconds left in the game, getting perhaps Gainesville’s cleanest look. The ball was just inches to the right, however, and ricocheted off the right goal post.
“We fought hard. That’s the most important part,” Wade said. “Fischer hit the post with 30 seconds left. That’s the fight these girls have.”
Gainesville will return the nucleus of this successful team next season, but will be without seniors Carpenter, Webster and Natalie Allen.
Wade said that he hopes the strong core of players can continue to improve in 2013.
“Allatoona is a very good, well-coached team,” he said. “It’s a credit to them that they won the way they did. That’s where we need to get.”
Wade said the team will return 15 players to next year’s team, including leading scorer Hartley Carter.
“I hope we can fill in those missing pieces, and pick up where we left off with the girls that are returning and build from there,” he said.