State Soccer Championship
Northgate one upset away from first title
by Doug Gorman
Northgate head girls soccer coach Bryan Hicks always preaches the value of hard work to his Lady Vikings.
Somewhere along the way in 2013, the message sank in.
Today at high noon, the Lady Vikings will be just one victory away from capturing high school soccer’s top prize.
That dream can become a reality starting when they battle Region 4-AAAAA rival Whitewater in the Class AAAAA title game at University Stadium on the campus of West Georgia.
Admission is $10 per GHSA bylaws. The game can also be watched live via streaming at GHSA.tv for a one-day pass of $3.95.
Whitewater (19-2-1) comes into the Class AAAAA title match as the top-ranked team in Class AAAAA, while Northgate (16-3) is ranked ninth in the most recent Class AAAAA coaches’ poll.
There are no secrets between the two region rivals.
In the regular-season meeting between the two schools this year, Whitewater posted a 1-0 victory. It was one of 12 shutouts for the Lady Wildcats this year.
Northgate has also had its share of shutouts this season, keeping nine opponents off the scoreboard thanks to the work of Mattea Lewis in goal.
“They have bought into what we have been trying to teach them,” Hicks said. “
Northgate advanced to the title match with a 2-1 overtime victory over two-time defending champion McIntosh on Tuesday. Whitewater rallied back from an early one-goal deficit to defeat Starr’s Mill 3-1 .
All four teams from Area 4-AAAAA advanced to the Final Four.
It’s at least the fourth straight year that two of the four have reached a state championship game.
Whitewater’s been there twice and been denied.
“It is probably the toughest region in the state,” Hicks said. “When you look back over the last few years, most of the final four teams have come from this region. I think it is something like 15 of the last 16.”
The Lady Vikings, meanwhile, are making their first finals appearance, meaning somebody today is in for a change of fortune.
If Northgate doesn’t manage to pull through, it won’t be due to a lack of preparation.
“We have put in the work. We have put in the extra work. The morning sessions have kept us busy and we have been very disciplined with it,” said Hicks.
Northgate has earned it spot in the state tournament with a squad made up of mainly of underclassman.
Micayla Crenshaw and Hannah Murray are the team’s two senior starters.
“They have done a great job helping our younger players,” Hicks said of his three upperclassmen, which also include Amanda Lee.
A pair of freshmen, however, have stepped up to lead the offense in a pair of one-goal playoff wins to get this far.
Lily Barron scored both goals for the Lady Vikings in shocker against McIntosh and freshman Cara Rhoad booted in the Lady Vikings’ only goal in the 1-0 victory over Pope in the team’s victory at the Elite 8 on the road in Marietta.
“Being in this situation when we have so many young girls is amazing,” Hicks said. “Some of girls just turned 15. Here Lily and Cara are scoring just huge goals against giants.”
The Vikings are getting plenty of support from midfielders Taylor Deloach and Katie Mitchell,
Defenders Hayli Verbanic and Brittany Deloach are also giving support to Lewis from the back line.
“The chemistry on this team is really good,” Barron said.”It’s is almost like we know what other players on this team are going to do. We can read them, we are all on the same page.”
The Vikings have spent the year determined to prove they belong among the state’s elite.
It came through when they rallied to beat McIntosh.
“I think the key was we never gave up,” Crenshaw said. “I always felt like we had time against McIntosh, and obvious we did.”
Now, that the Lady Vikings are on the verge of winning the championship the state is starting to take notice of just how special the season has been.
“Nobody expected us to get this far,” junior Ashley Keller said. “We did, because we never stopped believing we could make all the way. We have been determined all year, and we have been practicing hard.”
Northgate entered the state tournament as the No. 4-seed out of the region, and stated the playoffs with a 5-2 win over Lee County and a 1-0 victory over Lakeside-Evans to set up its showdown with Pope. Whitewater entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the region.
The Lady Wildcats beat Harris County 9-0, Houston County 5-0 and Allatoona 12-2 before beating Starr’s Mill.
Four years ago, Northgate had a chance to secure the championship hardware, but lost in the Final Four. After a two-year playoff drought, the Lady Vikings are writing an impressive playoff script this year.
Crenshaw knows closing out her high school career with a title would be special.
“When we made it to the final four this year, it was like here we are again,” Crenshaw said. “Now we have a chance to take it a step further and make it better this year. Tuesday was probably the biggest win for me, ever, especially being on the road, since McIntosh had won the state title the last two years.”
Hicks knows it isn’t a fluke that Northgate is playing for the state title.
“It’s our mission,” Hicks said. “We are going to get out there and play. If the game was at 9 a.m., we would go out there and play. We are going to be as prepared as we can be. I think we are ready. We have seen what we need to see. We are doing the stuff out there we need to do to prepare for the game, and we are going to be ready.”
There are factors Northgate will need if it hopes to gets some revenge against the Lady Wildcats, pull the upset, and capture the school’s first ever soccer title.
It starts with stopping Whitewater twins Anna and Teegen Van Gust.
The two seniors help make the Lady Wildcats click at both ends of the field.
“They are really good,” Barron said.”One plays offense and won plays in the back. If we can control them, we really feel like we have a good shot.”
Finishing its chances will also be the key for the Lady Vikings.
“In big time games, we may not get many opportunities to score,” Hicks said. “We talk a lot to them about one out of every three. We need to put one out of every three in the back of the net. If we do that, we have got a really good shot..”
Crenshaw knows if her teams plays like it did on Tuesday, they can write a new chapter of Northgate history.
“We have to play just as hard as we did against McIntosh and we have a really good chance,” she said. “It’s the last game, and we are going to do everything it takes to win.”
Murray says the team has to stay focused.
“We can’t let it get to our heads,” she said. “We have to finish what we started. We always had high hopes that we could make it this far. We have really bonded, we just have to go out there and finish the job.”