AFTER placing second in the region last year, the Jefferson girls’ soccer team wanted no part of another runner-up finish again this season.
So the Lady Dragons had no problem setting a goal for 2014.
“We wanted to go undefeated, and last year we got second in region, so we always want to improve and so we really wanted to win (region) this year,” said Jefferson senior Stephanie Lamm, the team’s leading scorer.
And that’s just what happened.
Jefferson polished off a perfect 6-0 run through region play with a 10-0 blasting of Rabun County on the road Friday night. The Lady Dragons are now 7-0-2 overall and carry a no. 8 ranking in Class AA.
With Jefferson High School already claiming region titles in girls’ golf, boys’ and girls’ track and baseball during the past week, the girls’ soccer team didn’t want to be left out of that mix.
“For some reason all the Jefferson sports this year have been winning region,” Lamm said. “So just for soccer — which is like a new program — to win region just made it even better and it’s getting us noticed.”
Coach Todd Parker said this has been a big season historically for the girls’ program.
“This is our first year in all of Jefferson (history) that we’ve ever went undefeated in region, so we are very excited,” Parker said.
Jefferson received big contributions throughout its roster in its region title run, with Parker pointing to players like Lamm, Maryanne Kilgore, Kayla Brown and Hannah Pasko.
“Basically all the starter girls, they knew where to play and they wanted it and that’s what happened,” Parker said. “They actually visualized it in their heads.”
That visualization became even clearer after beating last year’s region champion Oglethorpe County 4-2 in the region opener back in early March.
“Oglethorpe was big,” Parker said. “Once we saw that we could actually keep up and stay with them, really the whole team thought we could stay in competition with them.”
But Lamm actually thought the team’s final game — the clobbering of Rabun County — was the highlight of the year.
And it’s that shellacking of the Lady Wildcats that gives Lamm confidence heading into the state playoffs. She points to how efficiently the team passed the ball in the victory.
“Against Rabun, the defense was bringing it up, they weren’t just clearing. Our outside mids were getting crosses in, and we were just passing. And I think if we can pass like that, we can beat anyone,” she said.
Jefferson plays Region 6-AA Wesleyan in the first round next week. The Lady Wolves sent Jefferson packing in last year’s state tournament with a 8-0 rout of the Lady Dragons. Parker feels if his team can get past the first round this year, a very special state tournament could be in store for his group.
“If we can get past Wesleyan, I really believe we can probably make it to the final four,” Parker said.
Dragons enjoy major bounce-back season
THIS time last year, the Jefferson boys’ soccer team was turning in its uniforms and reflecting on a 4-8 season that ended with five losses in its last six games.
But this year, the fun is perhaps just gettting started for the Dragons.
In what’s been a major breakthrough campaign, Jefferson (8-1-1) won its first region championship Friday night with a rain-soaked 3-1 win at Rabun County.
Jefferson, which went 7-0 in 8-AA play and is ranked no. 5 in Class AA, will carry a no. 1 seed in the state tournament, opening play next week against Lovett most likely.
“That was definitely a great accomplishment for us — first time ever winning region in Jefferson history, first time ever going to state,” senior Nicholas Parker said. “And we actually have a chance this year to go far, ranked fifth right now in the state.”
Coach Sean Malone said winning the 8-AA championship carried a lot of weight, given last year’s struggles.
“That region title meant everything to the kids to be able to go out and prove that we weren’t the team that we showed last year,” Malone said.
Friday’s championship-clinching victory didn’t come easy.
Second-place Rabun County came into the game with one region loss and the Dragons were a bit sluggish out of the gate. But as it has all year, Jefferson found a way to respond.
“None of us were playing our ‘A’ game at first,” Parker said. “But then we stepped it up the first 10 minutes (of the second half) and put a few in the back of the net and just kept working the ball up and doing what we do best, passing and possessing the game the whole time.”
And it’s that kind of level-headed attitude that Malone praises. He said that this has been a poised group all year.
“They were able to do that each and every time and not get concerned about what other people were doing and just worried about themselves and who they were playing,” the coach said.
Jefferson has also benefitted from good leadership this year. Malone pointed to both Parker and Dakota Thompson, the Dragons’ prolific scorer, for their handling of those roles.
“They (the players) responded really well to having more of a team leader instead of just having a coach as a leader which was one of the things that we were lacking last year,” Malone said.
Players are also leading by example. Thompson has been an offensive catalyst while Brody Frazier has anchored the defense.
“He’s stepped up big time on defense,” Malone said of Fraizer. “He’s done a real good job of orchestrating that back line.”
At goalie, Robert Morsut has done “a fantastic job,” according to the coach, and proven his resiliency. Against Hart County, Morsut suffered a broken nose, which resulted in a lot of swelling around his eyes. Morsut’s status was questionable going into Rabun County, but he played.
“He got cleared by his doctor and was able to tough it out and had a fantastic game Friday night,” Malone said. “Just a fantastic game.”
As cohesive as the group is on the field, it’s also a close-knit group off the field.
“We’ve become pretty close,” Parker said. “We actually go to wing night almost every Wednesday now and stuff, so it’s been fun.”
And Parker and his teammates don’t want the fun to stop. Jefferson faces a first-round challenge with Lovett, which despite having just one win is a solid club playing in a really tough Region 6-AA. Parker thinks this team can go far.
“Ranked no. 5, I for sure think we can make it to the final four,” Parker said. “Getting over the first hurdle of beating Lovett, if we can get past them, we should be pretty good.”
Malone feels the same way.
“We have to concentrate first and foremost on that first game,” he said. “If we can get through that first game, these guys — they could carry it to the final four.”