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Playing for pride: Bragging rights on the line in tonight's rivalry contest
North Hall’s Tess Patton (15) passes the ball to teammate Trice Sweet (10) during the Lady Trojans 4-0 win over Johnson High Tuesday afternoon at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

A rivalry is, by definition, two teams striving for one goal or a competitive advantage.

The rivalry between Gainesville and North Hall goes beyond that.

A region title won’t be decided with tonight’s soccer matches. In fact, the North Hall girls, who have lost only one region game in the last four seasons, have already clinched a fourth-straight Region 7-AAA championship.

Each team’s place in the region standings won’t change much either, regardless of the outcomes.

Instead, the goal each is striving for a competitive advantage.

On the girls’ side, North Hall looks to preserve its 10-game winning streak, as well as its winning streak against Gainesville — the Lady Trojans (12-2, 9-0 Region 7-AAA) have won the last three matchups.

“The girls are excited about this game because it’s a big rivalry,” first-year North Hall coach Nathan Wallace said. “The seniors want to go out with an undefeated region record and the ability to say they’ve beaten Gainesville four straight years.”

Gainesville’s (8-4, 4-3) defense, led by Claire Kannapel and goalkeeper Hong Tran, will have its hands full with a North Hall offensive attack that is averaging better than three goals per game this season.

Led by junior Allie Wright and sophomore Tess Patton, who each have 16 goals and nine assists on the season, and senior
Julia Matthews (12 goals and seven assists), the third-ranked Lady Trojans have scored five goals per game in their last five contests including a 10-0 win over East Hall.

“The girls have come together as a team and are getting comfortable with each other,” Wallace said. “Because of that we’ve been able to push it up some the last few games.”

As good as North Hall’s offense has been, it’s the defense that has stifled opponents.

The Lady Trojans aren’t just on a winning streak, but a shutout streak of six games.

Led by Columbus State signee and goalkeeper Mary Mancin, who has 52 saves on 59 shots on goal this season, North Hall’s defense is giving up less than one goal per game.

“Most of the girls on defense played (junior varsity) last year so it’s been big for them to come in and be able to rely on (Mary Mancin),” Wallace said.

“She talks to them nonstop which is what any great keeper does.”

Gainesville’s offense, led by Raquel Castillo and Maggie Norton, comes in averaging just over one goal per game and Wallace knows they will be ready to play.

“They’re going to come out firing and be ready for us, I don’t doubt that,” Wallace said.

For the boys, possibilities are at stake as both North Hall and Gainesville are looking to stay in contention for a state playoff

“I think if you look at both (boys) teams, the significance of this game goes beyond the traditional North Hall-Gainesville rivalry,”
Trojans boys coach Kenny Childs said. “We need to win this game to even have a chance at a playoff spot.”

In the last five years, the boys matchup has gone Gainesville’s way four times, with each match decided by a little more than one goal and three by exactly one goal.

“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and this is the most competitive region I’ve been in,” second-year Gainesville coach Rick Howard said. “Every game is a test.”

Gainesville (10-3, 6-2) comes into tonight’s contest winners of its last three games, including a 1-0 win over West Forsyth, which is tied for second place in the region standings with Flowery Branch.

The Red Elephants are giving up 1.2 goals per game thanks in part to the play of goalkeeper Phillip Gaines, who has five shutouts on the season. Offensively, Gainesville is led by Russ Puckett with 13 goals on the season, Yonis Yanes with seven goals and Monish Lahari with 10 assists and four goals.

“Gainesville is currently sitting very well in the region standings,” Childs said. “With only two region losses and a lot of soccer left to be played, by the time this is all over they could be in contention for a region title.

“(The Red Elephants) are currently playing extremely good soccer and have some very dangerous players on the field.”
North Hall (8-5-1, 5-4) has lost or tied three of its last four games, including a heart-breaking loss to sixth-ranked Johnson on
Tuesday night in which the Knights climbed back from a 2-0 deficit with 16 minutes left in the game to win 3-2.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game for us,” Howard said. “I’ve watched them play twice and they are very good. “They’ve been unlucky with some losses but they defend very well and it’s going to be hard for us to muster any offense.”

Heading up a defense that is giving up just over a goal per game is Payne Wright, Justin Burrus and Daniel Powers.
The Trojans, who are averaging 2.8 goals per game, are led offensively by Marcos Llanas with 11 goals and Miguel Morales with eight goals.

“We are going to need big games out of several players in order to win this game,” Childs said.

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