It's safe to say that Columbia County's high school soccer teams, collectively, had their best year to date in 2003.
For the first time in history, every county team qualified for the state soccer playoffs, and region championships were claimed by the Augusta Prep Lady Cavaliers, the Greenbrier girls and boys, the Evans Knights and the Harlem Lady Bulldogs.
After settling for second behind Greenbrier in Region 3-AAAA last year, Lakeside's teams turned it on in the postseason, as both advanced to the Class AAAA state semifinals.
Now, with the 2004 soccer season starting this week, Columbia County's teams are prepared for an encore performance.
"Our goal is to go farther in the state playoffs this season," Greenbrier girls coach Alex Heider said. "There are six or eight teams in (Class AAAA) that could play for a state championship, and two of them are in this area."
Along his team, Heider was referring to the Lakeside Lady Panthers as the other local squad that could contend for a championship.
"Lakeside is going to be very, very competitive this year," he said. "They have a large senior group, and they didn't lose a lot of players."
The Lady Wolfpack, meanwhile, also is loaded this season.
"This is probably the best team I've ever had at Greenbrier," Heider said. "I'm very pleased with where we are right now."
Greenbrier is led by senior captains Nicki Gray, Melanie Cook and Kaycee Quarles. The squad also boasts 13 sophomores on the varsity roster, the majority of which play club soccer.
"That's a trend in our area," Heider said of the profusion of year-round soccer players boosting prep programs. "A few years ago we had three or four soccer players, and the rest were just athletes. That's changed. Patriots soccer has really helped Columbia County's high school teams."
Greenbrier and Lakeside have the dominant Class AAAA programs in the Augusta area, and that's not necessarily a good thing - with Region 3-AAAA opponents lagging behind the Columbia County squads, Greenbrier and Lakeside have set up rugged nonregion schedules to test themselves.
The Lady Pack opens the 2004 season Tuesday against Oconee County at the Brierpatch, while the Lakeside girls begin with a road contest Wednesday at Cedar Shoals in Athens.
"We've got a strong nonregion schedule this season," Lady Panthers coach Donny Rogers said. "We play Woodward Academy, Salem, Lovett, Bishop-England, and Oconee, which is a 5A school."
Lakeside also plays the Lady Pack - twice. Along with a Region 3-AAAA battle on March 26 at the Brierpatch, the teams square off in the season finale on April 23 at Panther Stadium.
Actually, Rogers and Heider would love to see a third matchup between the Lakeside and Greenbrier girls. The only way that would happen is if the teams met in the Class AAAA state championship game on May 15.
Opening week soccer schedule
Tuesday: Josey at Harlem, 5:30 p.m. (girls) and 7 p.m.; Oconee at Greenbrier, 7 p.m. (girls).
Wednesday: Lakeside at Cedar Shoals, 5:30 p.m. (girls) and 7 p.m.
Friday: Evans vs. Loganville (at Oconee), 5:30 p.m. (boys); Westside at Harlem, 5:30 p.m. (girls) and 7 p.m.; Lassiter at Lakeside, 7 p.m. (boys); Woodward Academy at Greenbrier, 7:30 p.m. (boys); Greenbrier at Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m. (girls).
Saturday: Lakeside at Oconee, 2 p.m. (girls); Evans vs. TBA (at Oconee), TBA (boys); Woodward Academy at Lakeside, 1 p.m. (boys); Lassiter at Greenbrier, 3 p.m. (boys).
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