By Devin Golden
The boys soccer teams at Dalton and Southeast Whitfield high schools have competed for local bragging rights and region supremacy many times.
Tonight they’re playing for state supremacy far from home.
Dalton’s Catamounts and Southeast’s Raiders face off in the Georgia High School Association Class 4A title match at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. Tickets for the 7:30 game are $10.
Dalton (21-0) is coached by Matt Cheaves — he’s in his 19th season at the position — and is ranked No. 1 in eurosportscoreboard.com’s GHSA Class 4A poll and second in maxpreps.com’s national poll. Southeast (12-4-1) is ranked seventh in Class 4A and is led by Kevin Kettenring, who is in his first season as the Raiders’ coach after previously serving as an assistant for the boys program and as the Lady Raiders’ coach.
Kettenring spoke of the rarity of having two teams from the same area play for a state title.
“It’s something special,” he said. “There’s always been an awareness that good soccer is here, and it’s just really cool. I hope this level of success continues for years to come.”
You could walk from Dalton to Southeast and call it “a good workout.” A drive between the schools takes less than 15 minutes. But the Cats and Raiders — and their fans — are this morning hours away from a match that has to take place hours away. According to Google Maps, a drive from Dalton to Carrollton covers 100 miles and takes two hours.
The GHSA reserved two neutral sites for soccer championships in all classifications today. Half will take place at West Georgia, and half will be at Kennesaw State University. But none of the other boys finals are between two schools this close to one another. The most similar situation is the Class 3A match between St. Pius X and Woodward Academy, metro Atlanta schools separated by approximately 20 miles.
Dalton athletic director Ron Ward said he asked a GHSA representative about changing the venue.
“(Southeast athletic director) Mark Lentych and I have been friends for a long time,” Ward said. “We talked earlier in the week before we played the semifinals about the possibility of appealing to the GHSA and moving the site and playing more locally, if nothing else for the sake of the gate. We’d pack this place out versus at another site far away.
“I was told those selections had been made and that’s what they were going to do ... But it’s not negative or a criticism. We’ll go anywhere to play. It doesn’t matter. I wish we could be closer to home for our support base. I’ve been in touch with the staff at West Georgia and they’ve been generous, gracious and hospitable.”
Lentych echoed those sentiments in regard to the chosen venue.
“I’m sure (the GHSA) has gone through a lot of trouble to make sure those sites are in good shape,” he said. “And West Georgia contacted me today and they’ve been nothing but hospitable.”
Both schools have reserved buses to bring students to the game. Lentych said there are four Southeast buses, with approximately 50 students per bus, heading to Carrollton. Ward said there will be at least three buses filled with Dalton students making the trip, and the number could reach four.
“Kids are really excited about it,” Ward said. “It’s catching, because some signed up and they got two or three friends to sign up. It’s a lot of energy.”
Southeast beat Northwest Whitfield 2-0 in the semifinals on Wednesday, while Dalton beat Spalding 7-0. This will be the fourth meeting between the Cats and Raiders this season, and Dalton has won all three previous matches with a combined score of 8-1. The most recent meeting was in last month’s Region 7-4A semifinals, where Dalton earned a 3-0 victory before beating Northwest for the region championship.
Dalton is in a state final for the third time in program history after sharing the Class 4A championship with Heritage-Rockdale in 2003 and finishing runner-up to Woodward Academy in Class 4A in 2004. Southeast was runner-up to Lakeside-DeKalb in Class 3A in 2008.
“Everyone is excited,” Dalton sophomore center midfielder Eder Mora said. “They are excited to come see us play and we’re excited to be here.”