By Devin Golden
Dalton High School’s boys soccer team enters as the favorite to win.
Northwest Whitfield comes in looking for a home state playoff game.
And Southeast Whitfield is assuming nothing, not even playing beyond this week.
Those three teams, all ranked in Eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A coaches poll, will begin the Region 7-4A boys tournament this week. The girls also start, and two local teams — Northwest and Dalton — are hoping to secure berths to the state playoffs. First-round matchups are set for Tuesday, followed by the semifinals on Friday and championships on April 23.
The road to a boys title goes through Harmon Field, where the top-seeded Catamounts will play each of their games if they keep winning. Dalton faces Cedartown at 6:30 p.m. With a 14-0 record and the No. 1 ranking, the Cats know they are the clearest of favorites.
“I don’t think it’s any different from what it’s always been,” Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. “Everyone seems to play us with great intensity. I think that helps us in the long run.”
Up in Tunnel Hill, the fifth-ranked Bruins hold Sub-region 7B’s No. 2 seed and host the Pickens Dragons at 7:30 p.m. With a win, Northwest (11-4) clinches a second consecutive trip to the state playoffs. But Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins said he’d like to get one of the region’s top two spots and play at least one state-level match at home. Last year, Northwest made it to the quarterfinals while playing each match on the road.
“Last year we proved you can ride a bus 1,000 miles and still win a match,” Scoggins said.
“We’re kind of new to the game of being ranked. That’s all well and good. ... But we don’t really have a fear of letting down a ranking. We want to survive and advance.”
With a win, Northwest plays the winner of River Ridge and Heritage-Catoosa. If it’s River Ridge, the Bruins will travel for the semifinals. If it’s Heritage, then Northwest plays at home again.
If ranking means anything, then Southeast will join Dalton and Northwest in the semifinals. Ranked ninth, the Raiders (7-3-1) were playing some of their best soccer leading up to Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Cats. Southeast beat Northwest 4-1 on Wednesday as the third in a three-match win streak.
Cheaves said after Friday’s match he expects to see the No. 3-seeded Raiders in the semifinals. Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring refuses to show as much forward sight. He only cares about the trip to face Cass starting at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve got a practice session and then the match Tuesday,” Kettenring said. “Then we’ll talk about that. But no, I don’t do make predictions like that.”
There will be a double dosage of soccer on Tuesday in Tunnel Hill. Before the boys game, the Northwest girls secured the sub-region’s No. 2 seed and host Cedartown at 5:30 p.m. After a losing season last year, this has been a successful one for coach Anna Stutts’ Lady Bruins (8-1).
Meanwhile, Dalton’s girls finished fourth in the sub-region standings and will travel to River Ridge for a 5 p.m. start. With a 5-5-1 record, coach Tony Carlson sees his Lady Cats starting to believe they can make a run.
“Despite our record, they know they are a better team and could be playing for a region championship,” he said. “They understand the magnitude of this and know what’s at stake.”