GEORGIA STATE SOCCER PLAYOFFS
Class AAAA boys
Northwest Whitfield at Flowery Branch, 5:30
Class AAA boys
North Hall at Southeast Whitfield, 6
Johnson at Dalton, 7
Class AA boys
Dawson County at North Murray, 6
East Jackson at Calhoun, 6
Class AAA girls
Dalton at Gainesville, 6
West Hall at Heritage, 7
Class AA girls
Jackson County at Lakeview-F.O., 5:30
Calhoun at North Oconee, 6
Class AA boys
Sonoraville at Dawson County, 5:30
North Murray boys' soccer coach Matt Chambers knew his team had the individual talent to compete for a region championship, so when the school opened last year, he focused on teaching that talent to play together.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe girls' coach Jonathan Schneider kept his Lady Warriors mindful of their goal of a region title.
Last week brought the rewards of Region 7-AA tournament titles.
Chambers' Mountaineers won by edging Calhoun in penalty kicks; the LFO girls got by River Ridge the same way. The champions enter the Georgia state playoffs as the top seeds for the first team in each's school history.
Northwest Whitfield's Bruins travel to Flowery Branch for a Class AAAA match today at 5:30 p.m. The area's other playoff teams play Thursday and Friday.
LFO's Lady Warriors (14-3) host Jackson County at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Mountaineers (12-2) will host Dawson County at 6 while Calhoun's boys entertain East Jackson and Calhoun's girls visit North Oconee.
"This was a two-year process," Chambers said. "We had to change our mindset and give it all we had -- not just physically but mentally as well. Being a new school, I hope that we'll go into the postseason underestimated in a way, but for me as a coach, it's nice to see the guys are starting to fulfull their potential."
In the region final, North Murray goalkeeper Manuel Gonzalez saved two of the Yellow Jackets' first three penalty kicks and the Mountaineers wound up with a 4-3 edge.
"All year, we've talked about being mentally tough," Chambers said. "We had a choice in overtime to not fall apart, which is what I've been preaching over and over."
Although LFO's path to the region title was similar in the sense it went to a shootout, the two teams couldn't have been any more different. While the Lady Warriors have grinded out most of their victories this season, River Ridge had scored 94 goals in its previous 17 matches.
"You could see how close to realizing our potential this team had come," Schneider said. "At the beginning of the season, we were returning only three starters and didn't think we could get here, but the girls pushed each other to get better. We knew how good offensively they were. They challenged us, but throughout the match the girls had a mindset of sheer determination, and no matter how many overtimes we went to, it never wavered.
"The girls pray on their own together before and after matches, and in a way we felt as if God rewarded us with the win."