Lumpkin County vs. East Jackson
When: 5:30 p.m. April 30
Where: Lumpkin County High School
DAHLONEGA — Alexis Satterfield wasn’t buying it when coach Don Brock told the Lumpkin County girls soccer players that they could win the Region 7-AAA championship this year.
Take down rival Dawson County, which had gone to the state semifinals last season in Class AAA?
Three years ago, the Lady Indians struggled to a 3-15 record, unable to even qualify for postseason soccer. Last season, they snuck into the state playoffs as a low seed only to be dealt a 4-0 loss by Grady in the opening round.
“I didn’t even know what ‘state’ was,” Satterfield joked during practice Thursday.
But Brock wasn’t bluffing.
Lumpkin County’s group of maturing talent proved him right by earning its first region title since 1997, and the team is currently undefeated (14-0-1, 6-0 region) heading into the Class AAA state playoffs.
The Lady Indians will host East Jackson (4-8, 3-3 8-AAA) in the opening round at 5:30 p.m. on April 30.
After watching a proven club system in Dahlonega develop his most gifted young athletes, the veteran coach understood that the best days for Lumpkin County soccer were coming.
Those days are now here and show no signs of ending anytime soon. The Lady Indians have made their rise with only one senior on the roster this season.
“Nobody expected us to do this, and I like that,” said Brock, with a roguish grin. “I told them ‘this is your region to win or lose.’ If they play the game we can, they can beat anybody.”
To understand Lumpkin County soccer is to understand the roots from which its players grew. Many of the Lady Indians have ties to the once-popular club program, Dahlonega United Soccer Association (DUSA). Established in 2007 by Gordy Hunt and a group of local parents, DUSA gave many of the region’s best youth players a chance to hone their technical skills from an early age. The co-ed teams would range from U-10 to U-16, and gave families a chance to help their athletes grow without having to travel to Atlanta.
“We had a bunch of our own kids, and we recognized the talent, but there was nowhere they could play,” said Hunt, an assistant coach on Brock’s team. “We started helping with coaching training, and it really helped a lot of the girls out. If someone doesn’t have the fundamentals, they can’t implement the tactics we want them to do.”
Several Lumpkin County starters, including Hunt’s daughter Abi, have grown through the ranks of club soccer. Abi has been a part of the club circuit since sixth grade, and said she’s made “long-lasting” friendships through the seasons.
As a sophomore center-back, she’s helped the Lady Indians secure nine shutouts this year. Brock’s four-person defense has two freshmen as wing-backs, but the youthful back line has given up just six goals all season.
“They’ve proved themselves,” Abi said. “When players are that good, you have no choice but to start them.”
DUSA has since given way to the United Futbol Academy, which attracts talent across Georgia. But the majority of the youth players on DUSA have since grown into starters for Lumpkin County, including Satterfield, the Lady Indians’ top striker with 26 goals.
The junior had become accustomed to seeing region rival Dawson County at the top of 7-AAA for three years running, and all but assumed 2015 would be the same. And even after Brock’s preseason declaration, it took a few wins to change Satterfield’s mind.
The Lady Indians defeated Class AAAAAA North Forsyth 2-0 in a scrimmage before handing Class AAAAA power Gainesville its only loss of the season, 3-1, on March 3 at City Park Stadium.
“When Coach told us we could win region, we were like ‘Coach, what?’” she said. “But then we started winning by shutouts, and we knew that we had a really great team.”
Lumpkin County’s lone blemish of the season — a scoreless draw with Johnson on the road on March 7 — provided Brock’s team with enough learning material to finish out the season on a high. Satterfield and Britt Payne scored against Dawson County in the team’s final region game of the season to spark a 2-1 win and dethrone the visiting Lady Tigers.
If the local club teams continue to mold Brock’s new players, the sky is the limit for Lumpkin County. Brock invited two eighth graders to work out with his varsity squad, in order to get them as many reps as possible before they join the high school team.
“When you have kids playing together for a long time, they understand each other’s habits, they know when runs will happen,” said Brock. “These kids, they can communicate in an almost nonverbal way.”
With a No. 1 seed wrapped up, the Lady Indians have all eyes set on the playoffs. East Jackson ended its season on a six-game losing streak, including a 9-0 loss to Lumpkin County on April 14.
“I’m already really happy with this season,” said Abi Hunt. “I’d be disappointed to not win state, but even if we don’t win, I’ll be so happy and proud of what my teammates have done to get us to this point.”