THE THREE local teams starting play in the state soccer tournament share one common factor: They’re all new at this.
Jackson County’s girls, East Jackson’s boys and Jefferson’s girls will all play the first state tournament game in their schools’ histories as Class AA postseason action begins this week.
The Jackson County girls are a no. 4 seed in the round of 32 while the Jefferson girls and East Jackson boys are both three seeds.
Since Region 8-AA matches up with Region 7-AA in the first round, all teams face long road trips.
The no. 10 Jackson County girls (12-6) will take on Lakeview Ft. Oglethorpe (7-3) Friday at 5:30 p.m.
The Jefferson girls (12-2) face River Ridge (12-6) Friday at 5:30 p.m.
The East Jackson boys (8-8-1) play no. 5 Calhoun (13-3-1) Thursday at 6 p.m.
Since Region 8-AA teams rarely see these schools, there’s a hint of mystery to the first round.
East Jackson boys’ coach Chris Cooley said that’s particularly true of his team’s match-up with Calhoun.
“I think both teams are going into the game not knowing much about each other,” Cooley said. “Part of the fun of playing teams from other regions is the ‘dark horse’ factor.”
Cooley’s team has been hard at work since beating no. 10 Dawson County last Tuesday to earn the no. 3 seed out of Region 8-AA.
The team had the option of playing two days earlier, but opted to play Thursday to allow for more practice time.
“The game is certainly at the forefront of their minds,” he said.
Specifically, Cooley said his team is focusing on its defensive pressure and possessing the ball and attacking better offensively through quick passing moves. The team is also working on “quality finishes,” around the goal, Cooley said.
“Our strategy has evolved through the season, and it’s been good to have a week to regroup, think over our approach, and prepare for state competition,” Cooley said.
Meanwhile, Jefferson girls’ coach Todd Parker has assembled something of a scouting report of River Ridge.
“We have heard that River Ridge is a beatable team,” he said. “They attack with through balls and hope that their speed will beat our defensive line.”
The Lady Dragons go into this game with 11 wins in its last 12 games. That includes a 3-0 win over Jackson County last Tuesday in the third-fourth-place game in the region tournament. Jefferson’s preparations for its first-ever state tournament game include both conditioning and strategizing.
“Last week and Monday of this week we have been working on conditioning, working hard during the heat,” Parker said. “Now we are going to settle down and work on their attack defensively and of course work on our attacks offensively. Corners have always been our strong point for adding a score. The ladies are willing to give it 100 percent, and I can see it during their practices. They are showing that they are determined to give.”
The Jackson County girls go into the state tournament on a two-game losing streak, but the program has reached new heights with a 12-win season. The Lady Panthers clinched a spot at state with a 6-2 thumping of Fannin County April 17 in the opening round of the region tournament.
Jackson County coach Joe Ridgway said this week has been about cohesion.
“We have been practicing hard to get all our players on the same page and look forward to seeing a total team effort,” he said. “We need the whole team to step up and come together for this playoff game. The coaches believe in them. We need to play our style of play. If we do that we will have a great game. We are looking forward to it. This is history in the making for our girls and our school.”