May 4, 2014

Devin Golden: How much brighter can soccer shine?

For each of the past three high school boys soccer seasons, the bar has been set a little bit higher in terms of area-wide success.

In 2012, a record number (four) of teams from Murray and Whitfield counties reached the quarterfinals of their respective classifications. Last season, this area set a personal best for teams the state postseason (six) and semifinals (three). This year, we’ve already pushed the area’s high for teams in the state playoffs to seven.

Last year, we had a state champion (Dalton) and a local-versus-local state championship (Dalton against Southeast Whitfield).

So what’s next? What else could the area accomplish?

How about multiple state champions in one season?

With four teams remaining — and headed to Tuesday’s second round — there are possibilities for as many as three state champions from the area. Dalton (18-0-1) and Southeast (12-5-2) remain in Class 4A, Coahulla Creek is one of 16 remaining in Class 3A and Murray County has state-title dreams alive in Class 2A.

It would be quite an accomplishment for this area if two or three  — or even four, if Northwest Whitfield’s girls team, which plays at 4:30 p.m. today in the first round at Columbus State University gainst host Columbus, makes an unprecedented run for local girls soccer — of the remaining sides won their last match of the season.

“It has to be the next bar,” said Coahulla Creek coach Eric Parker, whose team earned its first state playoffs win in program history last week against Buford.

“If that happens, we’d definitely have a claim to say, ‘This is the best soccer area in the state of Georgia.’”

With Dalton’s undefeated streak now at 41 matches — and aiming for 42 at Harmon Field against Lanier (10-6-2), Region 8’s No. 3 seed — and Southeast a program historically making runs to at least the quarterfinals, you wouldn’t be called crazy to pick one to win the Class 4A title. Anything could happen — and Johnson-Gainesville, the No. 2-ranked team in Eurosportscoreboard.com’s coaches poll behind Dalton, is just as much a threat. Dalton is certainly the favorite, and Southeast is a serious contender.

The eighth-ranked Raiders host Region 8’s No. 4 seed, Lumpkin County (9-5-3), at 6:30 p.m. at Raider Stadium.

Then there is Class 3A and Class 2A.

Neither 10th-ranked Coahulla Creek (14-3-1) nor fifth-ranked Murray County (14-5) are the historically successful programs that Dalton and Southeast are — the Indians won their second state tournament win in program history last week against Chattahoochee County — and neither Coahulla Creek nor Murray Counry entered the season as favorites to win a state title. Yet, both are rising, and getting through this next round could be the gateway to a deep run.

Region 5 No. 2 seed Coahulla Creek travels to play at 7 p.m. against the Region 8 champs, Oconee County (16-3), who the Colts lost to 5-1 in last season’s opening round. Oconee County is ranked sixth in the state.

“We know them and their field,” Parker said. “We know a little about them and how they work. We know they’ll have a bunch of big kids, over 6-feet tall. They’re fundamentally sound and coached well.”

Murray County, Region 7’s No. 2 seed, plays at 6 p.m. on the road against Region 6 champion Greater Atlanta Christian, which is undefeated through 19 matches this season. Along with that feat, Greater Atlanta Christian is ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.

“They’re going to have size on us,” Murray County coach Marco Burgueno said. “They aren’t giving up many goals but they’re scoring a lot.”

Winning in round two wouldn’t guarantee any end-of-year trophy hoisting for either Coahulla Creek or Murray County, but like Dalton and Southeast, you wouldn’t be crazy to predict the Colts or Indians winning their last match.

“I think this is, especially on this side the bracket, the toughest match we could get,” Burgueno said.

“If we can get by this round, psychologically there’s nothing as tough. If we can beat these guys, then we can take anybody on.”

Whether it happens this year or down the road, in terms of area success, a multiple-champion season eventually will come. Soccer is too good around here.

And you can’t call me crazy for predicting it.

Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can email him at devingolden@daltoncitizen.com or follow him on Twitter at @GoldenDev.

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