Flowery Branch girls at Oconee County, 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Eastside girls at North Hall, 5 p.m. Thursday.
After scheduling teams like Walker, Mill Creek, St. Pius X and Greater Atlanta Christian, the North Hall Lady Trojans and Flowery Branch Lady Falcons have played against some of the top soccer teams in the state. Now it’s time to see if that tough schedule will pay off.
Both Flowery Branch and North Hall open the Class AAA state soccer playoffs today and although both teams advanced out of the first round last year, they hope that this year’s tough schedule will improve their chances at making a deep run in the playoffs.
“It’s unbelievable how much a tough schedule helps because the girls know what’s out there,” said North Hall coach Nathan Wallace, whose third-ranked Lady Trojans (13-3) play host to Eastside (10-4) at 5 p.m. today.
Flowery Branch coach Katie Scali agrees.
“Playing a tough schedule makes us work hard and makes us stay focused,” said Scali, whose Lady Falcons (11-7) visit Oconee County (10-3-2) at 6:30 tonight. “It’s good to see the higher level teams.”
North Hall and Flowery Branch made it a point to see those high-caliber teams on the last day of the regular season, and while both schools lost — North Hall lost 2-0 to Walker and Flowery Branch lost 4-0 to St. Pius — playing those teams still provided some momentum heading into the postseason.
“It was good to play a strong team right after spring break,” Wallace said. “We lost, but the girls didn’t get down from that.
“Our thought process was to play a quality opponent right before the playoffs and then let’s get ready to go.”
Fresh off a final four run a year ago, the Lady Trojans enter this year’s tournament as one of the favorites to reach the finals. Gone are teams like Blessed Trinity and Westminster, two schools that eliminated the Lady Trojans from the playoffs the last four years.
“They moved down, but there are some pretty good teams that moved down from AAAA,” Wallace said. “We’ve got some pretty good teams that we’re lined up against. We don’t have an easy road by any means.”
While the Lady Trojans won’t be able to avenge their 2008 loss to Blessed Trinity, the Lady Falcons are pitted in the first round against the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago.
“They’ve definitely been reminded that this is the team that put us out,” Scali said. “But they’ve also been reminded that we’re better than last year.
“It’s not like we’re focused on getting back at them.”
Revenge may not be at the forefront of their minds, but playing against a team that they’ve already seen before has Scali feeling confident in her team’s chances.
“We’re familiar with their style and we’ve prepared all week for what we’re going to see,” she said.
One preparation that has been a point of focus is set plays, both on offense and defense. Scali said the Lady Falcons have struggled all year with defending set pieces and if the Lady Falcons hope to pull off a first-round upset, they’ll need to improve in that area.
“As long as we can defend those set plays properly, that’s the make or break,” Scali said.
The same can’t be said for North Hall, which reeled off 11 straight wins before the season finale loss to Walker.
“We just have to come out and play the way we know how to,” Wallace said. “We have to stick to our game plan and what’s worked all year.
“If the girls come out and play to their ability, they can beat anyone in this classification.”