Winning can become stale.
Yes. Undefeated seasons can harm the constant drive to win.
The Flowery Branch girls soccer team experienced that ironic truth in 2018 during the Class 4A semifinal match against McIntosh.
“Last year, we were so used to winning that we didn’t know how to lose,” Lady Falcons senior captain Hannah Pimentel said.
Now in 2019, the Lady Falcons (18-3-1) are in the same position, awaiting a trip to Columbus in the semifinals, a match set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
At first glimpse of their one-loss 2018 season, the Lady Falcons looked dominant. But senior captain Madi Shewbert sees it differently.
The loss against McIntosh identified their shortcomings. See, for much of the season, the Lady Falcons said they faced low-caliber teams; no one challenged them.
“We just went through teams (easily),” Shewbert said. “When we reached the semifinals, we didn’t know how to respond as a team because we were never tested until that moment.”
Flowery Branch coach Anel Lilic had to make alterations. A new schedule needed to present challenges they had once lacked. So Lilic reconfigured the game schedule to include top teams in Class 4A as well as the upper echelon of Class 7A .
This season, Shewbert says, they have been dominant.
Here’s some insight: The Lady Falcons beat Collins Hill 8-0, Blessed Trinity 5-0, Marist 4-1 and hung in a penalty kick shootout against St. Pius X, who has won six state titles since 2009.
They strengthened their weaknesses so that their faults no longer hindered their performance.
“If we were put into those positions last year, we wouldn’t have stood the same chance,” Shewbert said.
As strange as it sounds, the Lady Falcons gained momentum after their heart-wrenching loss to McIntosh. That momentum grew into belief after losing to North Gwinnett in the third game of this season.
After practice the next day, Pimentel drove striker Maggie Wadsworth home. The wide-eyed freshman mentioned the unspeakable words — “We’re going to win state.”
Pimentel immediately parked the car on the side of the road, jumped out of the driver’s seat and found the nearest tree. She knocked until her heart’s content.
See, Pimentel, like many goalkeepers, clings to many superstitions. She listens to the same playlist before warmups and won’t take her earpods out until the last song ends. Teammates know not to bother her before the conclusion of the song's final bar.
That night’s practice parlayed into an impressive performance against St. Pius X, which transformed into an ascension in play.
The Lady Falcons have lost three games this season, three more than one year ago. But this season it’s different. Shewbert believes whichever team plays with the most heart is going to win the state championship.
But the two senior captains are only a segment of the Flowery Branch team who seek redemption.
“Even for the seniors that won’t go on to play college soccer, they even say ‘This could be our last game, and I’m not making it my last anymore,’” Pimentel said. “We know that we want the state championship (knock on wood) to be our last game.”