The high school soccer season still has a long way to go, but in Columbia County, a real high point arrives March 28.
It's a double-bill featuring Lakeside vs. Greenbrier in a pair of matches at Panther Stadium. The girls begin play at 5:30 p.m., and the boys square off at 7:30 p.m.
For Lakeside Panthers coach Dave Morgan, March 28 is like a second Christmas.
"That date has been circled since the match was scheduled," Morgan said.
The contests are more than just battles for county bragging rights. Lakeside and Greenbrier field the dominant teams in Region 3-AAAA and, barring any major upsets during the remainder of the regular season, region titles will be decided Friday night.
The Lakeside High School girls soccer team enjoys a day of sunshine during after-school practice last week. Both the girls and boys soccer teams are defending Region 3-AAAA champs.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"Friday's game will be tactical, but it will also be emotional, for both the boys and the girls," Lady Wolfpack coach Alex Heider said. "The games will most likely determine the region champions. It's going to be fun, and there's going to be good soccer for sure."
The Lakeside boys have won four straight region titles, including three in a row since joining Region 3-AAAA. The Wolfpack has been relegated to second place the past three seasons, but Greenbrier coach Chip Warren isn't desperate to break that trend.
"Our seniors would like to go out as region champions. A lot rides on this game, but win or lose we still have the state playoffs, and that's the ultimate goal," Warren said. "We want to win the region championship, but if we don't, the sun's still going to come up."
The Pack has 10 seniors, including prolific scorer Joey Grigsby. Midfielder Zach Ducey and forward Brendan Globensky add to the firepower.
Lakeside's fortunes hinge on the midfield play of Grant Guthrie, Thomas Choi, Ben Meeks and Stephen Newman.
"Both teams are evenly matched," Morgan said. "It's going to be a tight game and real intense."
The Greenbrier girls shouldn't have to search for incentive - the Lady Pack lost a 1-0 match to Lakeside two seasons ago, and dropped a heartbreaking overtime game to the Lady Panthers last year.
As a result, the Lakeside girls claimed the region crowns.
'The last two years we had the game won and lost it," Heider said. "Lakeside has a streak going, and I'm sure they want to keep it going. Our focus this week is to play our game and stay focused."
The Lady Wolfpack is led by strong offensive play from Corri Fennell and Stephanie Fransoso. Missy Lewis anchors the defense at sweeper.
The Lakeside girls counter with strikers Stacy Moore and Susanne Rogers. Sweeper Jamie Lake keys the Lakeside defense, which has posted seven shutouts this season.
"The girls are responding real well. They're learning the system and believing in it," Lakeside coach Donny Rogers said. "We're playing an aggressive style, with high pressure all over the field."
Style of play separates the best prep teams in the state. Atlanta-based squads traditionally have dominated every classification in the Georgia High School Association, but the programs at Greenbrier and Lakeside are closing the gap.
"Not to downplay the quality of soccer at Aquinas, Richmond Academy or Harlem, but this Friday should be the best matches in the Augusta area this season," Rogers said.
In last week's Class AAAA poll, the Lakeside boys were ranked No. 5, and the Lady Panthers were at No. 4. The Lady Wolfpack checked in at No. 7, while the Greenbrier boys were No. 6.
"There's not many places where you can go and see four ranked teams play," Warren said. "That speaks well for soccer in this area."
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