Soccer success keeps Coweta on the map
by CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The football talent showcased in Coweta County last fall was impressive.
But remarkably enough, the futbol this spring may have surpassed it.
Regardless of Wednesday’s semifinal result between East Coweta’s boys and Berkmar in Lilburn, local soccer may have come of age in 2013.
And a pair of Final Four appearances this week, resulting in a trip to Saturday’s Class AAAAA girls championship game, is as much a testament to the players, coaches and volunteers at every level inside the county.
All six public school teams all made the GHSA playoffs, two of them reaching the Final Four and two more (East Coweta’s girls, Northgate’s boys) falling to eventual state finalists in respective classifications.
They were joined again by The Heritage School girls and newcomer Trinity Christian’s boys in the GISA Class AAA tournament.
Heading into today, the six had a collective win percentage in 2013 of .705 (79-33-1), not quite the success that baseball (.791) achieved this spring.
But when it came to the season’s three larger team sports — baseball, lacrosse and soccer — a trip to Saturday’s Class AAAAA finals by Northgate’s girls program and an appearance in Wednesday’s Class AAAAAA semifinals by the Indians put the latter ahead when it comes not only to playoff success, but also significance.
The Lady Vikings 2-1 overtime win against longtime nemesis McIntosh — an eight-time girls state champion — on the Lady Chiefs home field was as much a victory for Coweta soccer as it was for a “close, but no cigar” history when it came to taking on Fayette County’s top lineups.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for years,” said Northgate coach Maurice Campbell.
Getting over the hump was a long time coming, especially considering that Northgate snapped a three-year span where two of Fayette’s girls soccer powerhouses — McIntosh, Whitewater and Starr’s Mill — faced off in state championship games.
Campbell, an assistant for head coach Bryan Hicks, has seen his share of ridicule towards the program from opposing players.
“There’s been a lot of talk off the field that we’re not good enough,” he said. “They’ve heard it. This was totally different than the first time we played [McIntosh].”
Baseball, football and even softball have earned respect here, producing varsity talent that have gone on to bigger things both in college or the pros. Most careers started — and stayed in Coweta — among youth leagues.
That’s never been the case, however, with soccer.
Many of county’s top players have opted to play with Fayette’s AFC Lightning or Atlanta’s Concorde Fire. Some still do, considering the college talent it regularly produces as well as the clubs’ reputations around the state.
Over the past year, however, there’s been an even bigger movement to change that trend. The Coweta County Soccer Association recently partnered with programs in Cobb and Douglas County to form the Southern Soccer Academy among premier soccer programs.
“We’re trying to lay the footprints of Coweta County soccer,” said Steve Briggs, CCSA’s President at the time. “Eventually we’d like to make it where they wouldn’t want to look anywhere else to play.”
Maybe it was fitting that in the moments of sheer pandemonium that followed the Lady Vikings victory that Hicks was approached by three youth players in their SSA shirts.
“Hi,” he greeted each of them. “I’m Coach Hicks. Thanks for coming tonight.”
Chances are, he’ll be seeing more of them in years to come.
The youth movement is especially present among girls programs. Northgate has just two senior starters and East Coweta only one after carrying five freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors on the varsity.
Newnan’s girls started two sophomores and three freshmen in its second-round Class AAAAAA playoff game in a year where the Lady Cougars captured a region title despite an ever-changing lineup.
The Heritage School, meanwhile, has plenty of reasons to look forward to 2014 and beyond.
Its boys posted one of its better seasons while a girls team reached the Elite 8 of the GISA Class AAA tournament with a roster that included five eighth-graders, two freshmen and six sophomores, a majority of which were major contributors. The team finished 13-2 with a Region 1-AAA championship.
“I can tell you this, teams around the state better take notice, because Heritage School soccer is going to be around for a little while,” said Rineer.
When it comes to Coweta County soccer, the feeling is mutual.