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Region 7-AAA boys teams among state's best programs
West Hall’s Alejandro Zamora tries to shield Cambridge High’s Tyler Lee from the ball during the first period of their match at Spartan Field Friday afternoon. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

One thing is becoming certain about boys soccer in Region 7-AAA this year: A team deserving of a playoff spot is probably going to be left out.

With state tournament games beginning in a month, the chase for one of the region’s four qualifying spots is underway with no clear frontrunner in the current standings. Five teams are in the hunt, many of them making a serious bid for the region title.

It’s nothing entirely different than in previous years for the highly competitive area teams, but the dogfight appears to be getting bigger. In the current Class AAA coaches poll released Monday, four Region 7-AAA teams are ranked in the top 10. Only two of them, No. 2 West Hall and No. 9 East Hall, are Hall County teams. The other two are No. 3 Dawson County and No. 10 Buford.

“Right now, any of these teams could make it,” West Hall coach Andrew McCain said. “It’s about who wants it more, and who’s not going to make mistakes. There’s a lot of pressure right now, and so much competition, so we’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”

The Spartans (11-1, 4-1) previously held the outright region lead, but saw their perfect season take its first hit when they fell 3-0 to Dawson County on Tuesday in Dawsonville. Suddenly, the Tigers (10-1, 2-0) are in position to win a region title, should they win the rest of their games this season.

But one of their upcoming games is against North Hall (7-1-2, 4-0), who will likely break into the top 10 next week following recent wins against East Hall and Buford. The Trojans can make a bid for the region title should they defeat West Hall on April 16 and their season finale against Dawson County on April 24.

The Spartans can only hope either Dawson County or North Hall take some regular-season stumbles to give them another shot at the region’s top spot. Meanwhile, Buford and East Hall can climb in the standings with wins over the Tigers.

“We’re all neck-and-neck,” McCain said. “Ideally what we want to see is some of the teams we’ve beaten beat the teams that have beaten us.”

The region’s depth is beginning to draw comparisons to Region 6-AA in recent years. Buford’s home from 2006-2012, much of the Wolves’ time in the region was spent battling state forces in Greater Atlanta Christian, Lovett, Westminster and Blessed Trinity. All four teams reached the Class AA state semifinals last season.

Likewise, Region 6-AAA is facing a near-identical situation to Region 7-AAA this season but with an even bigger logjam atop the standings. Five of its teams are listed in the top 10, including top-ranked St. Pius X, Blessed Trinity (No. 4), Woodward Academy (No. 5), Cross Keys (No. 7) and Decatur (No. 8).

But it isn’t a major change of pace to the competitive level of the area teams’ regions over the past decade. Since 2003, the area has been represented by at least one team in the state semifinals. That includes a Class AAA state title by Gainesville in 2010.

McCain expects that tradition to continue, and even foresees the possibility of multiple teams making it that far. It hasn’t happened since 2005, when Johnson and Flowery Branch met in the state semifinals.

“I think there’s a very good chance of that,” McCain said. “I’d like things to work out that our region is going to be the strongest, but you never know what’s going to happen. It’s very unpredictable.”

CHESTATEE LOOKING FOR FIRST TITLE: Area boys teams are also excelling outside of Class AAA, mostly notable Class AAAA’s third-ranked Chestatee.

The War Eagles (11-1, 5-0) are three games away from winning their first-ever region title, despite numerous playoff appearance in the school’s 10-year history.

“We’re playing confident and we’re playing some strong soccer,” Chestatee coach Mike Herrin said. “Even when we have bad nights, we’ve created the opportunity by staying tough and fixing our mistakes. We gave ourselves opportunities to keep winning and get back in the game, or stay in the game.”

The War Eagles made the rest of road easier for themselves by defeating Johnson 1-0 (5-4 in PKs) last Friday. They close out their region schedule with Madison County, Stephens County and Lanier in April.

Johnson, which is currently ranked second in Class AAAA, can still clinch the region title if they win their final two region games and Chestatee loses at least two. But with the Knights (9-2-2) and War Eagles playing at such a high level, a switch in the standing would require some upsets along the way.

Like Region 7-AAA’s coaches, Herrin believes his team’s local schedule is tough enough to propel them deep into the state playoffs. Chestatee has never advanced past the second round, and Johnson hasn’t cleared the second round since 2006.

“We have to show up and play,” Herrin said. “We can talk about how we match up with other teams on paper, but the game isn’t played on the paper. Any particular night you can get a lucky call.”

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