Semifinals soccer preview

Photo by Richard Craine

Familiarity breeds contempt. The old saying rings true a lot more than people like to admit sometimes. But that is the case with several semifinals opponents at this year’s GHSA state soccer finals.

For example, 14 girls semifinalists saw region rivals also make the Final Four in their classifications. In Class AA, all four girls semifinalists were from Region 6, making the final four into what boiled down to a region tournament with the highest stakes. Greater Atlanta Christian, Westminster and Lovett make up the top three in the state while Wesleyan came in at No. 8 in the final regular-season rankings. The foursome played each other twice each during the regular season. Buckhead residents Lovett and Westminster will butt heads for the third time this year in the semis as will Norcross neighbors GAC and Wesleyan.

While metro Atlanta has typically dominated the state’s soccer scene, Classes AAA, AAAA and AAAAA in the boys’ brackets have a decidedly non-Atlanta feel.

The two finalists in last year’s boys Class AAAA tournament, Dalton and Southeast Whitfield, are on opposite sides of the bracket again, setting up what could be another finals matchup between the two county neighbors and region rivals. While the defending state-champion Catamounts have outscored their playoff opponents 24-1, Southeast Whitfield has won five of six games after starting the season 9-4-2. The teams met on the pitch three times during the season with Dalton winning all three.

In Class AAAAA, defending-champion McIntosh has dominated the season, but is joined by Clarke Central, Greenbrier and Houston County in the final four. The Gladiators from Athens won the state championship in 1999 while McIntosh has won it four times dating back to 1992. Greenbrier and Houston County are looking for their first championship each.

St. Pius X is a traditional power in AAA, but is joined by three non-metro Atlanta squads in the semis. The nine-time champion Golden Lions are joined by Oconee County, West Hall and North Hall in the final four. The Trojans are the No. 4 seed out of Region 7, but qualified for the semis after eliminating Region 5-champ North Murray, North Oconee and Islands. North Hall is the lone No. 4 seed to make the semifinals.

The Mill Creek boys made the semis for the first time in school history after eliminating Hillgrove 3-1 Friday. The Hawks have just two losses this year, including one to Johns Creek in February, which they avenged with a 4-3 win in the second round. Mill Creek has won 12 straight games coming into the semifinals.

Harrison, the 2007 champ, and Brookwood, the 2001 and 2004 titlist, also made the Class AAAAAA semis along with Douglas County. The Tigers scored three goals with 1:47 of each other after a scoreless 64 minutes of action in the quarterfinal against South Gwinnett.

In Class A, defending-champ Paideia threw its weight around in the quarterfinals by upsetting No. 1 Hebron Christian, which entered the game with just three losses – all to Class AAAAAA teams. The Lions, in fact, had beaten Paideia 3-1 in February. The Pythons, however, emerged with a 2-1 victory Friday. Paideia has come alive at the right time, entering the semifinals with five straight wins despite starting the season 7-7-1. Fellow Region 5 representative AIS joins the Pythons in the semifinals as does Brookstone and Our Lady of Mercy.

Two undefeated teams highlight the girls Class AAAAAA semis as Harrison and Grayson lived up to their respective rankings in the top two of the final regular-season rankings. However, the two programs have combined for one state title (Harrison, 2011) while Parkview, Region 8′s No. 3 seed, has won it all eight times, including last year. East Coweta is the surprise team in the final four this year. The Indians were not even in the final rankings.

Like Class AA, one region dominates the semifinal landscape in the Class AAAAA tournament. Region 4 will have three teams in the semis joining Pope. While other classes feature Cinderella’s and newcomers, all four participants in the semifinals have won state titles: McIntosh leads the way with eight, Starr’s Mill has five, Pope has four and Northgate won its lone state title in 2013.

Class AAA also has three semifinalists from the same region, as St. Pius X, Decatur and Blessed Trinity advanced from Region 6. St. Pius X is the defending state champs and has won titles in four of the past five years.

Class A is a different story as teams from four different regions populate the semifinals.

In Class AAAA girls, defending champ Marist is back along with newcomer Veterans and region rivals Columbus and Alexander.

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