TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Baylor: The Red Raiders advanced to the Division II-AA state semifinals last season.
2. Chattanooga Christian: The Chargers are defending Class A/AA state champions, with a talented senior class back.
3. Dalton: The Catamounts are expected to make a deeper run after a Georgia Class AAA state quarterfinal loss a year ago.
4. McCallie: The Blue Tornado return most a Division II-AA state quarterfinalist team from a year ago.
5. Southeast Whitfield: The Raiders have reloaded from their Georgia Class AAA state-semifinal team.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Miles Christian, Bradley Central: He scored 28 goals last season.
2. Ramiro Huitanda, Dalton: Huitanda had 24 goals last season and is off to a great start this season.
3. Henrique Ribiero, Baylor: Ribiero is back in goal after helping the team to the Division II-AA state semifinals.
4. Arturo Rocha, McCallie: Rocha returns after helping the Blue Tornado to the state quarterfinals.
5. Sikhou Sy, Hixson: Sy had an area-high 35 goals and added 10 assists last season.
Silverdale Baptist Academy senior goalkeeper Thomas Leslie can now look back and laugh at some of the awkward situations teammate Tony Baughman put him in on a soccer field.
“There was a game last season, where there was a call that you could have looked at as a questionable one on Tony,” Leslie said. “Knowing that his mentality on the field never changed, we knew he was going for the foul. It was in the box and that led to a penalty kick, which a goalkeeper is never happy about.
“I remember us yelling at him after the foul. They scored on the play and he came back and apologized. He just had a physical mentality where he would knock you down but help pick you back up.”
Baughman, a three-year starter at sweeper on the Seahawks soccer team, was killed in a car accident on Jan. 27. As a remembrance, Silverdale coach Chris Neighbors said each of the seniors will wear Baughman’s No. 18 jersey once during the season and the entire team have a patch on their jerseys.
Coincidentally, the patch is yellow for Baughman’s knack for yellow-card infractions.
“I think the patch is very cool,” Leslie said. “With the No. 18 on the yellow card and the halo, it pays tribute to the memory the teammates have of Tony — an aggressive, foul-ridden player.
“It’s a humorous thing to remember him by; not a sad memory.”
Neighbors said that Baughman’s loss kind of put things in perspective for a lot of players on the team.
“You always hear people say, ‘That’ll never happen here,’” Neighbors said. “These kids have never lost somebody their own age. I think they’ve handled it well, with a lot of grace and maturity. These are 17-, 18-year old kids themselves.
“Tony was just a very intense player; I never had to worry about the team effort. He got guys pumped up and just brought a stability and leadership to the team.”
Leslie and Baughman had been best friends since third grade. The former said that Baughman’s intensity was just his nature.
“Aggression was just Tony as a person,” Leslie said. “Whatever he did, he went after it wholeheartedly. He lived life to the fullest with no reservations, and was always messing with people.
“He was always one to take it to the next level.”
It will be the Seahawks who have to take it to the next level to win the program’s first-ever district championship. In a district that includes 2010 Class A/AA state champion Boyd-Buchanan, the task becomes that much steeper. Silverdale does have seven seniors, but 23 of the 32 team members are either sophomores or freshmen, so Neighbors is leaning heavily on the upperclassmen making an impact.
“This is a very special and unselfish group,” Neighbors said. “There aren’t any superstars, and no one guy can carry the load. It’s going to take the seniors leading the young guys.
“Part of that is patience; they’re excited to get out and play, but they’re going to have to make the choice how to respond to the loss of a teammate. Are we going to pay our tribute to Tony by playing our best? Or are we going to feel sorry for ourselves.
“The guys want to do their best and I think we will. I think they have the ability to do it.”