By Devin Golden
The boys soccer teams at Dalton, North Murray, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield high schools play in the second round of their respective state tournaments today, and all four are hoping to repeat their run to last year’s quarterfinals.
In Class 4A, Dalton hosts Johnson-Gainesville at 6:30 p.m. at Harmon Field, while Northwest is at Gainesville’s Chestatee at the same time and Southeast is at Carrollton for a 7 p.m. start. In Class 3A, North Murray welcomes East Hall to Mountaineer Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
While Dalton’s Catamounts (18-0) had an easy time in the first round, they don’t expect that to happen again.
Dalton is ranked No. 1 in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A and all-classification polls for Georgia, and the Cats are also ranked No. 1 in the nation by maxpreps.com.
Included in their victories are three each against Region 7-4A rivals Northwest and Southeast. Both of those programs are also in the 4A top 10 poll, so for the Cats, taking on a ranked team like No. 4 Johnson (15-2-2) isn’t anything new.
Johnson won 2-1 against Columbus in this past week’s first round, while Dalton beat Stone Mountain 10-0 in a match cut short of regulation time by the mercy rule. The winner of tonight’s match faces either Jonesboro or Veterans in the next round.
“I think the way our two teams line up, it mirrors each other,” Cats coach Matt Cheaves said. “This will be a much tougher match. ... The Gainesville area is known for being pretty good for soccer. They’ve had some good teams come from that area.”
One of those is Chestatee, which won the Region 8 title over runner-up Johnson.
“They’re fairly similar to us,” Cheaves said of Johnson. “They have aggressive forwards and midfielders that like to run.”
As for Dalton’s high rankings, Cheaves is aware of what they’re worth at this point.
“It’s a very nice recognition and we appreciate it, but we’re really not thinking about that right now,” he said. “We’re just kind of focusing on Johnson and taking care of things we can take care. That’s just people voting. It’s nice to be recognized, but we’d rather end up No. 1 based on what we’ve done and not votes.”
Fifth-ranked Northwest (14-5) had a much more difficult time in the opening round, needing a penalty-kick shootout to edge Grady in Tunnel Hill, and now the Bruins must travel to face No. 3 Chestatee (17-2), a 6-0 winner against LaGrange in the opening round.
“I know they’re a very talented bunch of guys who have played together for several seasons now,” Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins said. “They have two center midfielders who are very skilled. They have a lot to do with the success they have.
“The Gainesville area has a lot of successful schools. ... Like Whitfield and Murray counties have a strong soccer pedigree, Hall County has the same.”
The winner of Northwest and Chestatee faces either Mary Persons or Upson-Lee in the quarterfinals.
Northwest’s match with Grady was tied 1-1 after regulation play and stayed that way until the shootout, where the Bruins won 4-1 on penalty kicks.
“I feel like we’re going to have to control our possession a little better,” Scoggins said. “Against Grady, we were too willing to give away possession going for those long passes into the attacking third of the field.”
Southeast’s Raiders (10-4-1) already had a grand task ahead of them, and now they will try to reach the quarterfinals — it would be their third straight trip — without their head coach.
The Raiders will face Carrollton minus coach Kevin Kettenring, who will miss the game due to a prior commitment, Southeast athletic director Mark Lentych said. Lentych declined to elaborate further but said it was “impossible” for Kettenring to adjust. Kettenring did not return a message seeking comment and his phone went straight to his voicemailbox on multiple attempts to reach him.
Lady Raiders coach Amanda Ramfjord will step in as acting head coach.
“The team will prepare just like any other time we would,” Ramfjord said. “Coach Kettenring and assistant coach Victor Rodriguez have them prepared.”
The Raiders, Region 7-4A’s No. 3 seed and the 10th-ranked team in Class 4A, won 4-1 at Chamblee in the opening round, but Carrollton (13-3-1) is the No. 2 team in the Class 4A poll, won Region 5 and beat Stephens County 7-0 in the first round. The Trojans’ losses came against Starr’s Mill, ranked fourth in Class 5A; East Coweta, ranked third in 6A; and Westminster, the top-ranked team in 2A. Their goal differential is 69-13.
The winner faces either Howard or Dutchtown in the quarterfinals.
In Class 3A, North Murray (15-3) is trying to rebound from a lackluster first-round effort. The Mountaineers now have to topple the team that already toppled one of the bracket’s perceived favorites.
East Hall (11-3) beat fourth-ranked Blessed Trinity 1-0 in the first round. North Murray coach Matt Chambers was expecting a matchup with Blessed Trinity in the second round, but now must prepare his Region 5-3A champions for the No. 3 seed from Region 7.
“They kind of play like Coahulla Creek,” Chambers said of East Hall. “Very fast and athletic. Very aggressive. They’ll match up with us very well.”
The Mountaineers played and defeated the Colts twice this season, but both wins were by a goal. That same difference was enough to move North Murray into the second round for the third straight year as the Mountaineers beat Franklin County 1-0 a week ago.
“I was disappointed with that,” Chambers said of the final score. “They weren’t a very good team. ... I think it was a wake-up call for our boys. We had a great practice (Monday) and great energy.”
Last season, the Mountaineers reached the Class 2A quarterfinals. Chambers said the opportunity is there for his team to go as far as they want with Blessed Trinity gone.
“They were a private school with that private school allure to them,” he said. “Without them, it opens things up on our side of the bracket.”
The winner will face either Dodge County or Pierce County in the next round, which will be Saturday for both Class 3A and 4A teams.