The Lakeside High School girls soccer team enters unknown territory tonight, but Lady Panthers coach Donny Rogers has been there before - and he's got a gut feeling that something good will happen.
In his first season at Lakeside, Rogers has guided the Lady Panthers into the Class AAAA state semifinals. When Lakeside takes the pitch at Panther Stadium for a 6 p.m. match against Marist High School of Atlanta, the Lakeside girls will make their first foray to a final-four contest in soccer.
Rogers knows what to expect, though. In 1999, he coached the Greenbrier Wolfpack team that knocked off Marist in the Class AAA semifinals at the Brierpatch.
"We've got a really good shot at beating Marist," Rogers said of the Lady Panthers. "This reminds me of the (1999) Greenbrier match with Marist. Nobody expected us to win that game, and we won 4-3. This year's team is a lot like that Greenbrier team. We're really looking forward to this game."
To put Lakeside's season in perspective, it's best to first take a look back, specifically to a March 28 match against Greenbrier.
At that time, the Lady Panthers were battling injuries, and were no match for the Lady Wolfpack. Greenbrier won 2-0 and claimed the Region 3-AAAA crown, ending Lakeside's two-year reign.
The bitter defeat was a blessing in disguise.
"That loss to Greenbrier is probably the best thing that's happened all season," Rogers said. "That showed us what we needed to work on and made us realize what our ultimate goal was, and that's the state playoffs."
Finishing second in the region might even have helped Lakeside in the state tournament. The Lady Panthers opened state with a home-match against Columbus High School (3-0 win), and then withstood a road test at Ware County High School in Waycross (1-0) to earn a third-round match at Panther Stadium.
Lakeside pounded Forsyth Central High School of Cumming 5-0 in that quarterfinal match Saturday; Greenbrier's girls, meanwhile, had to travel to a quarterfinal match Friday, and the Lady Pack lost 3-2 to a tough Salem High School squad in Conyers.
The Greenbrier boys also were stung in the Class AAAA quarterfinals. The Wolfpack took an unbeaten record into their Friday night match at Dalton High School, but the Pack suffered a season-ending 1-0 loss.
The Harlem High School girls' amazing soccer run came to a screeching halt last week. The Lady Bulldogs traveled to Atlanta on Friday to face top-ranked Lovett in the Class AAA quarterfinals, and Harlem's season concluded with a 16-1 blowout.
As for the Lakeside girls, Marist will be a stern test. The Lady Panthers have lost state-playoff matches to Marist the past two years, both by 3-0 scores.
On the plus side, Lakeside has the home-field advantage, and enters tonight's match on a roll. The Lady Panthers are 18-1-2 overall, and have posted 16 shutouts this season.
Goalkeeper Carty Dunn has recovered from a knee injury, while midfielder Rebecca Bohler seems to have shaken off some health problems - the junior has been hampered by tendinitis in both knees, but dominated play during the Saturday victory over Forsyth Central.
In addition to solid defensive play, Lakeside's front line of Jamie Lake, Stacy Moore and Susanne Rogers have sparked the offensive attack. Lake poured in three goals to pace the Lady Panthers in the state quarterfinals.
If Lakeside tops Marist, the Lady Panthers would play host to the Class AAAA state finals Saturday against the winner of the St. Pius-Salem semifinal match.
No public-school girls soccer team from Columbia County has ever competed in a Georgia High School Association state final, but the Lady Panthers are poised to make history.
"I really believe we can go all the way," Lakeside senior Britni Combs said. "This is our year."
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