GHSA Class AAA girls soccer state semifinals: No. 2 Columbus High plays No. 3 Oconee County tonight at CSU

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMay 15, 2012 

When asked about the Columbus Lady Blue Devils' run to the semifinals of the Georgia High School Association Class AAA girls soccer state playoffs, freshman forward Nikiay Comer said, "It's really cool," before running off to go through shooting drills with her teammates.

A few minutes later, after putting a shot on goal, she came back and added, "Actually, it's indescribable."

That is one word that could be used to describe the second-ranked Lady Blue Devils' season, a season that continues tonight at 6 p.m., when Columbus (17-4) plays No. 3 Oconee County (17-3-1) in the state semifinals at the Walden Soccer Complex at Columbus State.

The winner will face No. 1 Allatoona (18-2-1) or No. 4 Gainesville (16-3-2) for the Class AAA state championship Saturday.

Another word to describe the Lady Blue Devils' season is "unexpected." That's because the Columbus roster includes just two seniors

and the Lady Blue Devils are underclassman-heavy, with four juniors, 10 sophomores and eight freshmen. With such a young roster, a deep postseason run might have been expected in 2013 or 2014, not this year.

However, sophomore Abby Roth, who had two goals in the Lady Blue Devils' 10-0 second-round rout of Eastside, said she and her teammates have overcome their relative inexperience with good chemistry.

"We've been so good this season because off the field, everybody gets along so well," Roth said. "This isn't a team where the seniors and upperclassmen boss around the freshmen. With our team, everybody is equal and everybody has a chance to earn playing time and nobody really gets mad because we know how much work we have to put in to get playing time. We all push each other to get better each day."

Sophomore Kyla Wright, who leads the team in assists, said immediate contributions by freshmen such as Comer have helped the team succeed.

"We lost a lot of seniors off last year's team who were big players for us," said Wright. "We had a lot of seniors who were back in defense and played outside midfielder, but we've had a lot of freshmen step in and fill those positions. They've most definitely been a big reason why we're where we are right now."

"Tough" is another word that might describe the Lady Blue Devils' season, as Columbus played a nonregion schedule that included matches with state playoff qualifiers Allatoona, Union Grove (Class AAAA semifinalist), Woodward Academy (Class AAA quarterfinalist), Eagle's Landing and Spalding (Class AAA second round), St. Vincent's (Class AA quarterfinals) and Auburn (Class 6A runner-up in Alabama).

"Our success in the playoffs has to do with the schedule we played," said Columbus coach Russell Oliver. "It speaks to the program we've built. There was a time when I'd call schools and they wouldn't want to play us, but, now, they call us wanting a match. It's what has given all these young players experience, and we've got enough upperclassmen still here that we've been able to build a tradition.

Another word that could be used for the Lady Blue Devils' season is "familiar." Columbus is in the state semifinals for the fourth time in the past six years, with previous trips in 2007, 2009 and 2011. However, the Lady Blue Devils lost in each of their previous three semifinal matches, falling to Westminster (2007), Spalding (2009) and Creekview (2011).

While Columbus outlasted Heritage-Catoosa in a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinals, Oconee County knocked off two-time defending state champion St. Pius X, 2-1, in Atlanta. The Lady Warriors have one opponent in common with Columbus: the Lady Raiders of Riverwood. Oconee County beat Riverwood, 2-1, in Watkinsville on March 10; Columbus split a pair of matches with Riverwood. Riverwood won a penalty-kick shootout in Atlanta on March 30, then Columbus took the rematch, 2-1, at Columbus State in the opening round of the playoffs May 4.

"We have to go into the match thinking we can win, but we can't go in thinking we've already won," Comer said. "We have to be confident we can go all the way."

A win would put Columbus in a state title match for the first time in program history and give the Lady Blue Devils one more word to describe their season: historic.

"We need to play like (senior forward Madison See) thinks," Roth said. "She thinks and plays like every game could be the last of her career, and we need to do that. We need to play like if we lose everybody will forget about us and if we win we go on to glory."

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