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Zopf: Maybe it's how you start
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One of my all-time favorite lines in the coach-speak library is "it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish." That line is normally thrown out when a team is struggling early on in the season, and the coach is hoping for some sort of ray of light to shine on his team.

Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. But for three soccer teams in Area 7-AAA, if their start is dependent on their finish, then every other team in the area should be afraid — very, very afraid.

If the first half of the season is any indication of the rest of the year, the North Hall girls should run away with the area title and be favorites to win a state title. In the boys’ area, both Flowery Branch and East Hall are off to a fantastic start (more on them later), but like the gentleman that I am, it’s ladies first.

Through seven games, the Lady Trojans (6-0-1) look unstoppable and are on a pace to lose exactly zero games this year.

One area coach told me last week that he believed North Hall was "unbeatable," and if you delve into the first seven games of the year, that statement is by no means a stretch.

For starters, North Hall has surrendered only one, I repeat one, goal all year. That lone goal was to Class AA/A’s third-ranked Buford team in the very first game of the year that resulted in North Hall’s only non-win. Since then, the Lady Trojans have reeled off six consecutive shutouts and have outscored their opponents 37-1.

Leading the charge for the Lady Trojans is freshman standout Tess Patton, who has a team-high eight goals and seven assists, but the Lady Trojans don’t just have Patton. No, they have much more, so much more.

In total, 10 Lady Trojans have scored goals this year, including six by Bradee Burrell and four apiece from Ashley Lackey and Laura Lane.

Combine that with a stifling defense anchored by goalie Mary Mancin and defenders Elizabeth Williams, Alli Wright and Meredith Clark, and calling the Lady Trojans "unbeatable" may be an understatement.

On the boys side, the Falcons of Flowery Branch started the year 8-0 before suffering their only loss at the hands of Class AAAA’s Cherokee High on Tuesday.

Coming on the heels of a mediocre 8-8 season last year, first-year coach Jeremy Purdy has stepped in and in an instant made the Falcons not only an area powerhouse, but a state powerhouse, as well. It’s familiar territory for the Falcons, who finished ranked No. 3 in the state as recently as 2006.

Now ranked fifth in Class AAA, Flowery Branch is led by senior Kyle Ellis, who has scored 22 of the team’s 45 goals. Ellis, plus a strong defense anchored by goalkeeper Zach Clark (54 saves and four shutouts) has allowed the Falcons to outscore their opponents 45-8 through the first nine games of the year.

While the success at Flowery Branch and North Hall may come as little surprise, the sleeper team of the year so far has to be the Vikings of East Hall.

After winning only two games last year, the Vikings are riding a four-game winning streak during which they have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 17-0. To put that in perspective, East Hall scored a total of 16 goals in the entire 2007 season.

With Flowery Branch undefeated and East Hall with only one loss in area play, the Area 7-AAA championship could be decided on March 27 when the Falcons play host to the Vikings.

Of course, the season is still young and there are still many games to be played, and I’m sure if you were to ask all three coaches about their fantastic starts to the 2008 season they would reply, "it’s not how you start, but how you finish."

But with the way these three teams have started the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that their finishes will be just as special as their starts.

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