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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 12:53AM

Soccer playoffs: NEGa area brings stout group of teams into Elite 8 round

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

For teams like the Johnson and East Hall boys, playing in the quarterfinals of the Georgia High School Association soccer playoffs has become almost a yearly tradition.

The Knights are making their fourth straight Elite 8 appearance while the Vikings are in the Elite 8 for the fourth time in five seasons going back to the 2017 playoffs. Both teams played for state titles in 2021 -- Johnson in Class 5A and East Hall in Class 4A -- with the Knights winning the  2018 Class 5A title.

However, they aren't the only Northeast Georgia programs to put together deep playoff runs in recent years. Thirteen area teams across six different classifications advanced to the quarterfinals, which gets under way on Monday around the state.

(Check below for the full schedule of quarterfinal round matches involving Northeast Georgia area teams.)

The Buford girls and Jefferson girls are in the quarterfinals for the third time in five seasons each while the Union County boys and girls both are in the Elite 8 for the second time in three seasons.

For the Cherokee Bluff girls, making it to the quarterfinals has been a program goal since its inception just four years ago. Now, behind a dynamic offense led by sophomore Kaitlin Cook, the Lady Bears (16-3) are looking for more history on Monday as they play host to Morgan County with a spot in the Class 3A semifinals on the line.

“After winning region and claiming the (No. 1) seed for the state tournament, the team is excited with our progress, but not satisfied,” Lady Bears’ coach Calvin Cook said. “Our last team goal set for the year is to make the Final Four and give ourselves the best chance to win state. Everything up to this point has been a build up to this and the team is focused and ready.”

The Bluff offense has been almost unstoppable posting 10-0 wins in both of the first two rounds. They have scored 97 goals during their current 13-match win streak (7.4 goals/game).

But Cook said it has been the defense that has been driving the bus.

“The dominance of the defense, led by keeper Avery Fowler, Kaitlyn Vasil, Abigail Foster, Abigail Essex, and Sophie Recinella has been a large contributing factor to our production on offense. It all starts in the back and echoes through the team.

“This year the team has stepped it up on the offensive side of the ball tremendously. Along with Kaitlin [32 goals] we have Amelia Dovie [24 goals], Genesis Gamez [18 goals], and Alyssa Stringer [14 goals] all seeing large minutes at the forward position.  We have also stepped it up in the midfield this year with Anna Gessner, Ellie Sutulovich, Paige Wheat, and Carson DeMars. The attack has been a team effort. Any player can score at any time.”

The West Hall boys, also in Class 3A, fell on rough times after winning the Class 3A state title in 2015. The Spartans are back in the Elite 8 round for the first time since then.

They will be put to the test at Spartans Field on Tuesday playing host to defending Class 3A state champion Coahulla Creek. 

They have been building the program back to championship-caliber under third-year coach Jimmy Gault. Belief, Gault said, has been the driving force behind the return to excellence.

“The players have bought into our team-first mindset,” Gault said. “Our leading scorer, Alejandro Lemus, has 22 goals, Kevin Zuniga-Chavez has 15, and Andres Gomez has 10. This has been a complete team effort. We don’t rely on one player for our success. It’s been a mindset all the guys have had all season.”

The offensive firepower is important, but defense seems to be the key for the Spartans, who have allowed a miniscule 6 goals during a current 11-match win streak. 

“The goals allowed statistic is something all our players take pride in,” Gault said. “Our defenders have been owning their role and taking pride in what they do. Centerbacks Sixto Hernandez and Yair Perez, wingbacks Jesus Ramirez and Harody Castillo, midfielders Martin Andrade, Guillermo Ibarra and Oscar Romero have anchored our defense throughout the winning streak.

“Our team mindset is that we defend as a team and everyone drops. Our goalkeeper Diego Chacon also has bailed us out of sticky situations from time to time, but the goal is for him not to have to make any saves. Good defense is definitely a top priority against Coahulla Creek.”

The Jackson County girls, the Region 8-5A champs, are making their second Elite 8 appearance since 2018.

The Union County boys advanced to the Class 2A title match in 2019. The Buford girls made the 2017 Class 5A championship match. 

The Lady Dragons made semifinal runs in 2017 and 2019 while the Jefferson boys advanced to the Final Four in 2019 as well.

Tickets will be $7 for all single playoff games contests, as set by the GHSA, and available only on GoFan sites.


QUARTERFINAL ROUND SOCCER PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

MONDAY, APRIL 25

Class 6A 
Chattahoochee girls (Region 2, Seed 2) at Buford (R8, S1), 6 p.m.

Class 5A
Decatur girls (R1, S1) at Jackson County (R8, S1), 6:30 p.m.

Class 4A
Jefferson girls (R8, S2) at Luella (R2, S1), 6 p.m.

Class 3A
Morgan County girls (R4, S1) at Cherokee Bluff (R7, S1), 5:30 p.m.
Lumpkin County girls (R7, S2) at Oconee County (R8, S1), 6 p.m.

Class 2A
Fitzgerald girls (R2, S2) at Union County (R8, S1), 5 p.m.

Class A Public
Towns County girls (R8, S3) at Ace Charter (R7, S1), 5:30 p.m.
Commerce girls (R8, S2) at Claxton (R3, S2) , 5:30 p.m.


TUESDAY, APRIL 26

Class 5A
Veterans boys (R1, S1) at Johnson (R8, S1), 6:30 p.m.

Class 4A
East Hall boys (R8, S4) at Benedictine (R3, S1), 7 p.m.

Class 3A
East Forsyth boys (R7, S2) at Oconee County (R8, S1), 7 p.m.
Coahulla Creek boys (R6, S2) at West Hall (R7, S1), 6 p.m.

Class 2A
Coosa boys (R7, S2) at Union County (R8, S1), 6 p.m.

(Area teams listed in BOLD)

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