High School Soccer

County teams anxious for chance to start season

by Doug Gorman and Chris Goltermann

High school soccer coaches might have known what was in store for them in regards to weather conditions this season as early as the first week of February.

“Did you hear?” asked East Coweta girls head coach Chris Luppens. “We’re fielding a water polo team this year.”

Two weeks of just about every type of precipitation Mother Nature can provide has made for a slow start to the 2014 season, but enough to get in at least one scrimmage game apiece.

Coweta’s three GHSA girls lineups didn’t take long to put their best feet forward, winning games by a combined score of 13-4.

Northgate’s girls took the field last Friday for the first time since capturing its Class AAAAA state championship for a 3-1 win over Spalding that included goals by sophomore Lily Barron and Reece Weaver. Barron had three points and Weaver finished with two.

Luppens, meanwhile, watched the Lady Indians easily push past Ola 7-3 while led by senior forwards Nikki Brandley and Ren Waters, both of whom signed college scholarships on National Signing Day earlier this month.

Newnan’s girls, after reaching the second round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament, opened the season last week with a 3-0 shutout win over LaGrange.

Barring an earlier makeup, though, Newnan teams aren’t scheduled to take the field again until next Thursday’s trip to Northside-Columbus after having two potential regular-season openers against Shiloh on Tuesday and at Columbus on Thursday postponed by another blast of winter weather.

Even without ice and snow, weather has caused fields to remain saturated for most of this month, making even practices a struggle.

“When you are dealing with Mother Nature there is just no way to know what is going to happen,” Luppens said. “We want to play, we just aren’t sure when we are going to get the chance. The field is still really soaked.”

Both East Coweta and Northgate have a chance to officially open respective seasons tonight, however.

East Coweta was scheduled to host LaGrange for a 5:30 p.m. non-region doubleheader, starting with girls action following Tuesday’s cancelled games against Druid Hills.

Northgate teams are scheduled to travel to Union Grove tonight at 6 p.m., after having a trip to Carrollton wiped out by the threat of this week’s storms on Tuesday.

Boys teams are all coming off seasons that ended at the hands of state champions or eventual finalists.

Coming off a program-best 19-1 campaign that ended in a shootout loss to Berkmar in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals, East Coweta’s boys held off Ola for a 2-1 scrimmage win.

The Indians are attempting to replace the scoring production of twin brothers Ian and Conner Antley, both of whom moved on to Mercer University. The Antleys combined for 78 goals while accounting for 75-percent of East Coweta’s offense in 2013. Also graduating was keeper Luke Oesterle, who signed with Georgia State, as well as Josh Richardson and Ryan Wright — all of whom were selected to last year’s Newnan Times-Herald All-County Team.

Austin and Zac Slaton as well as mid- fielders Ryan Thomas and Jairo Ruiz lead this year’s group of returners for the Indians.

Northgate’s boys, which lost top scorer and fellow All-County selection Levi Lewis, fell to Spalding 2-1 in its preseason scrimmage. The Vikings had three underclassmen earn All-County honors last season including defenders Robbie McNeal and Jamie Skalski. Northgate ended an 8-8 season in the second round of the Class AAAAA tournament with a loss to Houston County, which eventually reached the finals before falling 2-0 to the Vikings’ Area 4-AAAAA rivals McIntosh.

Newnan’s boys, which enter its first season under head coach Justin Romero, dropped a 4-0 decision to LaGrange. The Cougars are looking to replace four All- County players including leading scorer Nick Pelerose after finishing 11-10 and reaching the second-round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs before losing to eventual state finalist Collins Hill.

Senior Connor Cox is among this year’s top returners after earning All- Region and All-County honors last year.

The Lady Cougars should be poised to improve on a 12-7 record from a year ago after an influx of young talent in 2013. Head coach Frankey Henderson played a larger group of freshmen and sophomores that answered the call, especially after losing junior defender Anna Lawrence to a torn ACL during the regular season.

Newnan’s girls are looking to replace leading scorer Jordan Ponce, top midfielder Julie Whatley and goalkeeper Rebecca Whitlock, all of whom earned All-County honors.

Luppens, meanwhile, has good reason to be excited as well following a 13-6 season in 2013.

“We don’t have a whole lot depth, but it is a veteran team,” said Luppens said. “This is my first group of seniors who have been with me the whole time. So they are a special group.”

Waters and Brandley lead the way up top, combining for 35 goals last season. Midfielders Lynnsey Danford, a junior who had 18 goals in 2013, and senior Anna Lauzon, provide as much a com- fort for Luppens in the center of the field.

Katie Sutherland returns to a defense that recorded nine shutouts, with sophomore Kelsey Weaver and freshman Sam Hoffman now touted to hold the goalkeeping duties following the graduation of Kristin Jones.

Along with Northgate’s returners from last year’s Class AAAAA championship lineup, the annual Coweta Cup tournament is shaping to be quite the showcase. It begins on March 31.

“It is really good to see how far we have come in this county with high school soccer,” Luppens said. “All three if our high school teams are good. It used to be it was all about Fayette County teams, but last year we proved we were belonged.”

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