Don't let the weather fool you - spring must be right around the corner, because high-school soccer kicks off this week in Columbia County.
Lakeside High School plays host to a girls soccer jamboree Friday at 5 p.m. Lakeside, Evans, Greenbrier and Aquinas will square off in a series of scrimmages, with the last match starting at 8:45 p.m.
The spring sports season officially begins later this month, but for Lady Panthers soccer coach Donny Rogers, the jamboree will provide a welcome warm-up for the regular season.
"We'll have tryouts, then cuts, then the jamboree. Time is of the essence," Rogers said. "We just started practice, and the ice storm put more of a crunch on us. The jamboree will give us a chance to see what players can do, and will provide an opportunity to look at some of the younger players."
Still, Rogers says he won't read too much into the jamboree.
Rogers took over as head coach of the Lady Panthers last season, and watched his new team struggle in jamboree action.
The Lakeside girls went on to post 18 wins and advance to the Class AAAA state semifinals for the first time in team history, and Rogers was named Class AAAA coach of the year.
"I don't mind if we start slow, as long as we finish strong," Rogers said. "We had a really good ending, and everyone is excited about the results of last season. We'll see where that takes us this year."
Soccer success was standard for Columbia County's girls in 2003.
Greenbrier beat Lakeside and claimed the Region 3-AAAA title; Harlem won its first-ever championship in Region 3-AAA; Augusta Prep took the Region 4-AAA crown in the Georgia Independent School Association; and, the Evans Lady Knights placed second in Region 7-AAAAA to secure a berth in the state playoffs.
"A lot of the success has to do with the club soccer," Rogers said. "The Augusta Arsenal provides good players, and the Columbia County Patriots program has grown. I think Harlem and Evans really have reaped the benefits of that."
Club players will be spotlighted at the jamboree, including Columbia County Lady Patriots stars Rebecca Bohler (Lakeside), Niki Gray (Greenbrier), Erin Sullivan (Aquinas), Caroline Barrett (Aquinas) and Anna Goolsby (Evans).
Before the jamboree, those five players will convene for a Friday ceremony, where the Lady Patriots all will sign college soccer scholarships.
For Rogers, the scholarship signings, and Columbia County's strong play on the prep pitch last season, both are signs that the Augusta area is earning statewide respect in soccer.
"I would say yes, definitely," he said. "When the Class AAAA rankings are released, I would expect us and Greenbrier to be in the top 10, maybe in the top five. Greenbrier has a ton of quality players. They might be the team to beat in the state this year."
5 p.m. - Lakeside vs. Evans; 5:45 p.m. - Aquinas vs. Greenbrier; 6:30 p.m. - Evans vs. Greenbrier; 7:15 p.m. - Evans vs. Aquinas; 8 p.m. - Lakeside vs. Aquinas; 8:45 p.m. - Lakeside vs. Greenbrier.
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