Spring isn't in the air, but soccer balls will fill the sky this week, as Columbia County high school squads hit the pitch and herald the start of the 2002 spring sports season.
Evans High School goalie Stephen Goldman lunges for the ball during practice. The team faces a tough slate of competitors in Region 4-AAAAA.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
While baseball normally gets top billing in Columbia County, the local prep soccer teams set an equally-high standard during the 2001 season.
The Lakeside boys and girls claimed Region 3-AAAA titles, with the Panthers earning their fourth consecutive region championship. The Lady Panthers made it to the Class AAAA state playoff quarterfinals, and the Panthers were state semifinalists for the second straight season.
First-year coach Stacie Schwamberger takes over the Lady Panthers this year, and assistant coach Brad Sterling returns. The Lady Panthers will rely on seven seniors, while sophomore keeper Carty Dunn and sophomore striker Rebecca Bohler top a stellar contingent of younger players.
Greenbrier's girls and boys both finished second in Region 3-AAAA last year, and each are primed to challenge local rival Lakeside in 2002.
The Lady Wolfpack settled for runner-up in the region after losing to Lakeside 1-0. Top scorers Amanda Lewis and Ashley Hicks have graduated, but Brooks Daniel and Nikki Gray should help fill the void.
Meanwhile, a young Wolfpack squad advanced to the state playoff quarterfinals in 2001 before falling in overtime to eventual Class AAAA state champion St. Pius X.
With most of the team returning intact, including senior core group goalkeeper Keith Borgner and defenders Ashby and Aaron Bethune, the Wolfpack could be ready to finish the job this season under third-year coach Chip Warren.
"All the local teams are getting stronger," said Lakeside coach Dave Morgan, who isn't ready to relinquish the throne.
"We're looking to rebuild, but we still have a strong foundation," Morgan said. "We'll be a little young, but we have athletes and they know the game."
Lakeside seniors Jonathan Spencer and Jonathan Wilson will be the main scoring threats, while senior midfielders George Downey and Siri Shetty will help control the pace of play.
The Panthers already have experienced a setback, as junior midfielder Grant Guthrie is out for four to six weeks after injuring his ankle during the Augusta Arsenal Spring Shootout earlier this month.
Additionally, Lakeside has lost 12 players from last year's squad, including a majority of its defense.
"The biggest difference is we won't have as deep a bench," Morgan said. "Some guys will have to put a lot of time on the field, but if we stay healthy we'll be able to play with anyone in the state."
Injuries also concern Brian Killips, the first-year coach of the Evans' Knights. Junior defender M.T. Giovino was in a collision during the Augusta Arsenal Spring Shootout and had to undergo emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen.
The Evans girls also have a new coach, in Carter Morris.
Both Evans teams face a tough road to the state playoffs, and each must weather the constant pummeling of competing in Region 4-AAAAA, which features 16 squads and strong Atlanta-area programs.
"Half the teams we play are ranked in the state, and in our region it's tough to make it to the state playoffs, but we've got a great chance of making it to state. I'm really looking forward to the season," Killips said. "We've got a great group of young guys. Eventually, we look to be one of the top teams in the county, right along with Greenbrier and Lakeside."
Don't discount the Harlem High School squads.
The Lady Bulldogs set a record for wins last year, and coach Jennifer Perez has most of her players back this season. Senior striker Laura Tam is one of the county's most proficient shooters.
Like the Harlem girls, the Bulldogs just missed a state playoff berth last year, and Harlem coach George Berry will look to take the next step in 2002. Twin brothers Lucas and Emery Frentzel are the athletic mainstays for Harlem.
Augusta Preparatory Day School plays boys' soccer in the fall, and the Lady Cavaliers will begin their soccer season the first week of March.
The Lady Cavs have a first-year coach, although Doug Williamson is no newcomer to the sport. Before joining the Prep staff last fall, Williamson coached collegiately in Nebraska. He also coaches the Augusta Prep boys.
Soccer kicks off
Opening Week Prep Schedule
Lakeside (girls) at Cross Creek, 5:30 p.m.; Greenbrier (boys) at Cross Creek, 7:30 p.m.; Thomson (boys) at Harlem, 5 p.m.; Evans at Westside (ARC Stadium), 5:30 p.m. (girls), 7:30 p.m. (boys).
Aquinas (boys) at Harlem, 7 p.m.
Aquinas at Evans, 5:30 p.m. (girls), 7:30 p.m. (boys); Greenbrier Invitational (girls) - Greenbrier vs. Sequoyah, 6 p.m.; Lakeside vs. Gainesville, 7:30 p.m.; Lassiter Invitational (boys) - Lakeside vs. Harrison, 7:30 p.m.; Harlem (girls) at Hephzibah, 5:30 p.m.; Harlem (boys) at Baldwin High School tournament, TBA; Greenbrier (boys) at Jefferson County, 5:30 p.m.
Greenbrier Invitational (girls) - Lakeside vs. Sequoyah, 1 p.m. - Greenbrier vs. Gainesville, 3 p.m.; Lassiter Invitational (boys) - Lakeside vs. Lassiter, 3 p.m.; Harlem (boys) at Baldwin High School tournament, TBA.
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