High School Soccer

Northgate ready for defense of state title

by Doug Gorman


Ashley Keller, who earned All-Region honors, has been a mainstay on defense with teammate and fellow All-Region honoree Hayli Verbanic for Northgate’s girls, who travel to Heritage-Conyers this morning in a 9:30 a.m. kickoff. 

Coaches love to tell their players that defense wins championships.

If that’s the case, Northgate head girls soccer coach Bryan Hicks should like his team’s chances to repeat as the Class AAAAA champions.

Northgate opened the postseason with a pair of 4-0 victories over lineups from Houston County and Harris County, and now are just three wins away from potentially another state championship ring.

The Lady Vikings, however, will have to answer an early-morning wake-up call today when they travel to Heritage-Conyers for a 9:30 a.m. kickoff.

It’s a matchup of two of the state’s top-10 teams in AAAAA. Northgate, ranked No. 3, takes a 17-3-0 record into today’s Class AAAAA quarterfinal game while the No. 9 Lady Patriots are 15-4-0 overall.

Several athletes face a long Saturday. The early starting time is to accommodate proms at both schools tonight.

Hicks isn’t worried about the early kickoff, though.

“We are down with it, and they are down with it,” he said. “We really don’t care when we play.”

Goaltender Mattea Lewis has sparked the defending state champions to 10 shutouts.

“She has been back there since she was a freshman and she understands the game,” Hicks said.

Lewis also has plenty of support from the Lady Vikings defenders Hayli Verbanic and Ashley Keller, both of whom earned All-Area 4-AAAAA honors this season.

“We are able to switch around players back there,” Hicks said. They all have a great mindset.

Teams really don’t get past us very often, and if they do, Mattea is back there in goal.”

Heritage has won three of its last four games, getting a 6-1 victory against Tucker to open its playoff run and also beating North Paulding 3-2 in the second round earlier this week.

The Lady Patriots won the Region 8-AAAAAA crown with an 8-0 record, and like the Lady Vikings pride themselves on solid defense, shutting out opponents seven times this season.

“Just watching them on film, it looks like they gave a good goalie too,” Hicks said. “It should be a good test for us.”

Offensively, the Lady Vikings have showcased its depth while being led up front by Lily Barron, Reece Weaver and Taylor DeLoach.

On Wednesday, Weaver, Ashley Keller and Katie Salha were among players that scored for Northgate against Harris County.

The Lady Vikings received a boost late in the season when junior midfielder Katie Mitchell returned from a injury while rejoining Cara Rhoad as mainstays at the position.

This year’s playoffs are shaping up much like that from last year’s run to the Class AAAAA championship game.

Northgate and McIntosh are again on the same side of the GHSA bracket and will meet in next week’s semifinals should both teams win today. The Lady Chiefs (16-2), who finished as the No. 3 seed out of 4-AAAAA, travel to Northview (11-2-3), the No. 2 seed out of 7-AAAAA.

The Lady Vikings could host in such a scenario after finishing ahead of McIntosh in the 4-AAAAA standings. Last year, Northgate rallied to knock off McIntosh in overtime on its home field in Peachtree City.

“We are not going to look ahead,” Hicks said.

Area 4-AAAAA champion Starr Mill (17-3) also is on the road today against an Allatoona team at 16-2-2 that held off East Coweta 2-1 in a non-region match during the regular season. The Lady Indians play tonight in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals.


Girls Soccer Quarterfinals

Today’s Game

No. 3 Northgate (17-3) at No. 9 Heritage-Conyers (15-4), 9:30 a.m.

How They Got Here

Northgate — beat Houston County 4-0 at home; beat Harris County 4-0 on road.

Heritage-Conyers — Beat Tucker 6-1 at home; beat North Paulding 3-2 at home (penalty kicks).

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