Last year, a midseason loss to rival Flowery Branch derailed the Gainesville girls’ soccer season. The Lady Red Elephants limped into the state playoffs as a No. 4 seed and couldn’t produce in the postseason.
Gainesville coach Mark Wade is hoping Friday night’s 2-0 win over the eighth-ranked Lady Falcons will have the completely opposite affect on the fifth-ranked Lady Red Elephants this time around.
“We’ve been pointing to this (game) all season,” Wade said. “Last season, we came into this game without a loss, and we lost it and kind of fell apart after that.
“Even though we graduated a lot of girls and we are a whole new team — we’re real young — we’ve been talking about how one game can change your season, one way or the other.”
Margaret Carpenter assisted on a goal and scored another to lead Gainesville (11-1-1, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA) to the win over Flowery Branch (9-3-1, 3-2) in wet, gloomy conditions at City Park Stadium. It was Gainesville’s third shutout this season, and 12th game in which the Lady Red Elephants held their opponent to fewer than two goals.
Carpenter, a sophomore, delivered a pass across the middle of the field to set up teammate Breana Fair for a goal off a header just six minutes into the first half, quickly giving the momentum to Gainesville.
“I knew that Breana was making the run, so I just crossed it and she had a great header,” said Carpenter, who scored the game’s final goal on a free kick in the 66th minute, barely sailing it over a line of Flowery Branch defenders and the Lady Falcons’ goalkeeper.
After suffering their first loss of the season on Tuesday night, a 2-1 defeat to Forsyth Central in non-region play, Wade said he thought the Gainesville girls had their best two practices of the season in preparation for Friday’s showdown with Flowery Branch.
“We came out here Tuesday night against a non-region opponent and didn’t play very well,” Wade said. “That actually might have served a great purpose, because our focus Wednesday and Thursday, I thought was the best we’ve seen all season.”
Friday’s win was the Lady Red Elephants’ second region victory against a team that is ranked inside the top 10 of the Class AAAAA state rankings. They also beat ninth-ranked Loganville 1-0 earlier this season, and still have a game against 10th-ranked Heritage next Thursday.
Carpenter said a major reason for Gainesville’s success this season stems from last season’s disappointing finish. Despite graduating eight seniors off last year’s roster, Gainesville used the less-than-stellar finish as incentive to work harder during the offseason and during practices.
“We definitely got motivation from that four seed (last year),” Carpenter said. “And we started soccer conditioning in October, three days a week.
“We are a completely different team than last year. We’ve picked it up, we’ve worked harder and we’ve focused more. We’re getting the job done because we’re working so much harder than we did last year.”
Youth has been a theme for Gainesville’s girls this season. The Lady Red Elephants had seven underclassmen, including five sophomores, in the starting lineup Friday night against Flowery Branch, including Carpenter and Fair.
Despite being a young team, Wade hopes victories like the one over Flowery Branch can keep the Gainesville girls focused on getting better, while instilling a bit of confidence into them as they make a run toward a region championship.
“This time of the year, usually you see a lot of looking ahead toward spring break, but I haven’t seen any of that with this team yet,” Wade said. “And part of that is probably because we are so young. They’re fired up and excited about being out here.”
GAINESVILLE BOYS 7, FLOWERY BRANCH 1: The Red Elephants took advantage of a Flowery Branch own goal just 24 seconds into Friday’s game and never looked back, adding four more first-half goals.
Ricardo Gomez scored a pair of goals for the fourth-ranked Red Elephants (11-1-1, 6-0), while Diego Porres and Jose Cruz Garcia each scored one in the first half to give Gainesville a 5-1 lead at halftime.
Flowery Branch’s lone goal came from Adante Aguilar with 9:17 remaining in the first half. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Cruz Garcia scored 45 seconds later to put Gainesville’s lead back to four goals.
Gainesville added second-half goals from Christian Ochoa and Eric Bonilla.
Flowery Branch returns to action Tuesday with a visit to Loganville. Gainesville visits Heritage on Thursday.