Lakeside High School had two chances to play for a Georgia High School Association soccer championship, and though those dreams died last week at Panther Stadium, it wasn't from lack of effort.
The Lakeside boys lost 4-1 to Heritage from Conyerson Tuesday in the Class AAAA semifinals, and the Lady Panthers dropped a 3-0 match to Atlanta's Marist in Wednesday's state semifinal contest.
The dual defeats didn't overshadow the fact that Lakeside is the first Columbia County public high school to have both girls and boys squads make it to the state soccer semifinals.
"It's been a great year," Panthers coach Dave Morgan said. "The kids worked really hard and deserve all the credit."
Morgan's squad has now lost to Heritage in the state semis for three straight seasons, and the Lakeside girls have suffered a similar fate, suffering three consecutive season-ending playoff defeats to Marist.
"I don't think it's a jinx. Marist has a very good team, and Heritage is ranked No. 1 in the nation," Morgan said. "Neither one of our teams folded. We played our best in both games, and you're never ashamed to lose to a good team."
Lakeside's Brian Gross-Bias, left, trips Heritage's Chris Mahaffey during the second period of the Heritage 4-1 win over Lakeside.
Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker
All things considered, Columbia County probably has just completed its best prep soccer campaign in history. Along with Lakeside's semifinal appearances, Greenbrier's boys and girls advanced to the Class AAAA quarterfinals, and the Harlem Lady Bulldogs did the same in Class AAA.
Also, the Wolfpack and Lady Pack each won Region 3-AAAA titles, the Lady Dogs claimed the 3-AAA crown, and the Evans Knights took the top spot in Region 7-AAAAA. Harlem's boys placed second in Region 3-AAA, and the Evans girls were second in their region.
Last fall, the Augusta Preparatory Day School boys soccer team set a new school record for wins in a season, and this spring the Lady Cavaliers established a new mark en route to a final-four berth in the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class AAA state playoffs.
The soccer excellence may not be an aberration, according to Lakeside girls coach Donny Rogers.
"The gap between Augusta and Atlanta in soccer is closing dramatically," Rogers said. "We're about one or two players away from being a championship-level team. We're going to find those two players and close that gap."
Morgan will have to find enough players to fill the shoes of seven departing seniors, including standouts Grant Guthrie, Thomas Choi and Zach Dillard, but Rogers should have a loaded Lakeside team next season - the Lady Panthers lose seniors Stacy Moore, Britni Combs and Tricia Testa, and that's it.
"We're looking forward to the future. We've got a lot of good young players. We're going to be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come," Rogers said. "The players vowed to work their butts off over the summer and come back next year and have a better result."
The Lakeside girls had 11 juniors on the roster in 2003, including Carty Dunn, one of the best prep goalkeepers in the state. Dunn recently was named Class AAAA player of the month, and she thinks the Lady Panthers could be the Class AAAA team of the year in 2004.
"We had a great season," Dunn said. "This was just a step toward next year."
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