For the Flowery Branch girls soccer team, tonight’s quarterfinal round is unchartered territory.
In contrast, the North Hall girls and West Hall boys programs have been here before.
The commonality between the three lies in the mentality: survive and advance.
The Lady Falcons (13-7) are one of only two unranked teams still playing, and have proven to be at home on the road this offseason.
They began the march to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win at Oconee County and followed that up with a 4-2 win at eight-ranked Grady.
Tonight, at 7 at Griffin Stadium, they will take on fifth-ranked Spalding with a berth in the state semifinals on the line.
The Lady Falcons are averaging 3.2 goals per game while giving up 1.5 and are led by Lindsey Porter, Joy Smith, Cassidy Elrod and Brenda Navarro.
The Lady Jaguars (13-3) come in winners of 10 of their last 11 games, having beaten each of those opponents by an average of six goals while twice winning 10-0. They are averaging 5.1 goals per game this season while giving up only one per contest.
This marks the seventh time in the last eight years that Spalding has reached the state quarterfinals. Last year, the Lady Jaguars lost 1-0 to Blessed Trinity in the Class AAA state championship.
The Lady Trojans have won 13 of their last 14 games thanks to stout defensive play and unselfish, yet on-point offensive prowess. They bring that into Saturday night’s contest against first-year Class AAA squad Eagles Landing.
North Hall is led offensively by Tess Patton and Allie Wright, who have each scored 20 goals this season while dishing out a combined 22 assists.
Julia Matthews is the next leading scorer for North Hall with 13 goals and 10 assists.
While North Hall’s offense is productive, it’s the defense that is the team’s proverbial cow bell.
“We live and die with our defense,” North Hall coach Nathan Wallace said. “Everything that happens for us offensively starts with the defense, we build up from the back.”
Taylor Knight, Emily Smith, Anna Kate Wright, Kimberly Mistarz and Bradee Burrell are the standout defenders called upon to control the opponent’s offense, but it’s senior goalkeeper Mary Mancin who has the final say.
Mancin has 88 saves on 99 shots on goal this season and has recorded 10 shutouts.
“She is what you want a keeper to be,” Wallace said. “She talks all the time, which any great keeper does, and if any team kicks it within 20 yards she’s going to get it. It has to be a perfect kick and it has to be something designed and special to get past Mary.”
The third-ranked West Hall boys are fresh off a 4-0 rout of 10th-ranked Cedartown in the second round of state. The big win, however, came at a big cost. Senior forward Juan Arbalaez hurt his left knee with less than 10 minutes to in the second half and West Hall up 3-0.
Arbalaez leads the team with 19 assists and has scored 19 goals this season, which is second to Rudy Vazquez.
“I’m hoping he’ll be OK,” West Hall coach Wolfgang Jager said. “But I think we’ll be good to go with or without him, we can’t look back on the injury.”
The Spartans (16-3) are riding a seven-game winning streak, averaging 5.3 goals per game during that period.
Sixth-ranked Eagles Landing’s last loss came to then second-ranked Woodward Academy. The Golden Eagles (13-4-1) come into tonight’s contest having scored 74 goals in 20 games, while giving up less than a goal per game.