occer team was close last year.
A pair of penalty-kick shootout losses in region matches was the difference between going 12-4 and making the state playoffs and being 10-6 and staying home for the postseason.
Coach Levi Karas returns a veteran squad from that team — 11 of the 18 players on this year’s roster are seniors — that is hungry for a turnaround and is off to a 2-0 start with wins over East Jackson and Jackson County.
“We’re already moving the ball a lot better as a unit this season,” said Karas. “One of our main problems last year was we didn’t create as many chances in the attack. So we’re really driving that forward this year.
“We want to try to avoid those close games by getting the lead early and holding onto it. We didn’t have a whole lot of shutouts last season so we want to work on our defense and stay more disciplined as a unit.”
Helping in that effort will be senior three-year starter Hayden Morgan at goalkeeper and a mixture of seniors and juniors on defense.
As typical with pretty much any soccer team, the key for the Bulldoggs will be how the midfield plays and Karas said senior Connor Mullis and junior James Faur should help in that area by controlling the game with their passing and technical skills.
The Bulldoggs have also picked up an early jolt on the attack from senior forward Sean Rowtham, who recorded a hat trick in a preseason scrimmage with Walnut Grove last week.
“I think we’re in a real good spot as far as experience and age go,” Karas said.
“I’m expecting big things this season, but there is some uncertainty with our new region.”
The new six-team GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA includes tough draws like Gainesville, Lanier and Dacula and teams looking for a turnaround in Habersham Central and Apalachee.
“Everyone is going to be competitive,” Karas said. “I think playing everyone in the region twice will bring an exciting new element to the game and as we move closer to the region schedule, these other teams we will be facing should be on a level that will get us ready for the games that count.”
Powell takes over girls program
While there is mostly continuity with the boys team this year, the Winder-Barrow girls team is experiencing some change with the arrival of new coach Angela Powell, who took over for longtime coach Ben Arms.
So far, the Lady Bulldoggs are 1-1 after opening with a 7-1 trouncing of East Jackson and then losing to Jackson County 4-1 Tuesday night.
Powell, a South Gwinnett High School alum, is returning to the metro Atlanta area following a 12-year stint in south Georgia, where she was most recently head coach at South Effingham.
“Things have been meshing really well so far,” Powell said. “I think we can be a pretty solid team this year with one senior and a loaded-up junior class.
“We’re going to be in a really competitive region, but we’ve got a pretty good chance to compete with some good, young talent.”
Winder-Barrow is still waiting on a few players to heal from various injuries and illnesses and will also benefit when Bayley Randall comes on board when the school’s basketball season is done.
The Lady Bulldoggs will rely on several players up front and in the midfield, including Kacie Wilson, Britney Walker, Ansley Church, Alexis Thao, and Angelique Boucher.
Autry Cooper, Janette Anguiano and Emily Burns will start in back and help out first-year goalkeeper Ashley Everette.
While it’s been more than a decade since Powell has been around north Georgia soccer, she’s aware the Lady Bulldoggs are in for a tough fight in the region.
The early non-region matches “should give us a pretty indication of where we’re at,” Powell said.
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