It’s been three seasons since the Apalachee boys soccer team reached the state playoffs and five for the girls, as both squads have traditionally been saddled with rigorous, crowded region schedules.
But if the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats want to snap those skids this year, they’ll have to do it with young teams.
The Lady Wildcats lost seven seniors off last year’s team that went 9-9 and return just one this year in midfielder Bailey Powers. In fact, coach Scott Bates is starting as many as six freshmen in the early going.
“But they’re good soccer players,” said Bates, whose team has started 2-0 with wins over North Oconee and Loganville. “They would probably all be playing even with a few more upperclassmen ahead of them. We’ve got four or five juniors who are really going to help out, but we will be relying heavily on a lot of those ninth-graders to play significant minutes.”
Several of the newcomers will be on the defensive end of the field with Sarah Currey, Macky Clark, Taylor Salvaggio and Caitlyn Evans playing in the back and protecting junior goalkeeper Emily Brooks, who has been a starter since her freshman year.
Sophomore Xitlali Martinez will give the Lady Wildcats another young face at midfield along with Powers and junior Ashley Oldroyd. And then another freshman, Erin Allen, joins junior Keiry Bonilla at forward.
“It’s a young, but talented group,” Bates said. “Most of these girls play competitive club-level soccer during the offseason, but whereas club soccer is about precision and finesse, high school soccer tends to be a little more physical and how our younger players stand up physically will determine how much success we can have.”
On the boys team, which opened up with a 1-1 tie against North Oconee and then beat Loganville 5-2 on Tuesday, coach Chad Hooper is having to replace nine seniors, including seven starters. Those returning are primarily up top with David Santana, Antonio Ortiz, Benoit Dastous and Adolfo Landeras.
“It’s going to be a challenge and even though our region is smaller this year, it’s going to be as tough, if not tougher,” Hooper said, referring to Apalachee’s move to GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA from the old 8-AAAAA.
While traditional playoff teams like Clarke Central and Gainesville are no longer part of the region, Gainesville and Lanier still remain along with an experienced Winder-Barrow team on the boys side and newcomers Dacula and Habersham Central
“Really all of them are going to be very good,” Hooper said of the boys region slate. “It’s a realistic goal of ours to try to get one of those top four spots and get back to the playoffs. But we’re going to have to do a better job of finishing our opportunities that are given during a game and improve our communication on the field. Hopefully our non-region matchups will challenge us and help us focus on finding those weak spots so we can correct them before region play.”
On the girls side, perennial region champ Gainesville and Lanier are returning playoff teams while Dacula had a strong 2016 in the highest classification. For the Lady Wildcats, the difference between being a playoff team and not in recent years has often come down to one game.
“We usually win the games we’re supposed to, but we’ve got to be able to win some of those toss-ups as well,” Bates said. “We’ve got to be able to capitalize on those end-of-game opportunities. I think it will help playing everybody twice in the region because I feel like our staff is good at making adjustments so we will have the chance to win more region games.”
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