Blue Devils play Wayne County
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
When you list the top girls soccer programs in Georgia, Wayne County isn't one that comes to mind.
However, Columbus head coach Russell Oliver, whose team faces the Yellowjackets (15-3-2) in the Class AAAA state playoff quarterfinals today at 5 p.m. in Jesup, knows that his team will have its hands full.
"When I looked at Mapquest for the best route to get there, I knew immediately that I wasn't looking forward to the trip," said Oliver, whose team will have a five-hour bus ride to get to Wayne County. "I don't know a lot of the teams on their schedule, so it's a little hard to gauge.
"Wayne County hasn't really been on my radar since they haven't been in the same classification as us, but beating Upson-Lee (4-1 in the second round) the way they did told me a lot. I've gotten some reports on them and they've got some skilled players. It's not a typical South Georgia team that will just try to be more physical than you. It's not a fluke they have the record they do."
The winner of the match between No. 3 Columbus (14-5) and Wayne County will take on either River Ridge (13-6) or No. 6 Veterans (14-3-1) in the state semifinals Tuesday.
Columbus edged No. 8 Grady, 1-0, on a 68th-minute goal by Nikiay Comer in the second round Tuesday at Columbus State, running the Blue Devils' record at CSU to 9-1 all-time. However, the road to a state championship runs through Jesup and Oliver hopes his team is up to the challenge.
"We've played a lot of road matches, but we haven't got that much experience playing on the road in the playoffs," said Oliver whose team won four straight home matches to advance to the Class AAA state championship match in 2012. "Hopefully, we can transition well to playing on the road.
"We also have to be aware of the difference between their field and the one at CSU.
Wayne County's field is really wide and short, while the field at CSU is wide and long."
Along with adjusting to the smaller pitch, Oliver said his team will have to get some offense from unexpected sources if it's to knock off Wayne County and advance to the semifinals.
"We know we're going to have a strong defensive effort (Columbus has 12 shutouts this season)," said Oliver. "We're going to have to mix our attack up to not be so predictable."
One factor that will play in the Blue Devils' favor is their tough non-region schedule that included matches with state playoff teams Brookstone, St. Pius X, Veterans, Oconee County, Riverwood, Northgate, Whitewater, Northside, Allatoona and Woodward Academy. All but one won at least one state playoff match and Woodward Academy, St. Pius X, Veterans, Northgate, Riverwood, Allatoona and Whitewater -- seven teams in all -- are still alive in the state quarterfinals.
"I hope it helps," said Oliver. "I hate losing and I know my kids hate losing and we didn't play that kind of schedule just so we could lose now. we played it so that we'd have a chance to play for a state title. This team is very resilient. We were down three goals at Veterans and won (rallying from being down 3-0 to win 4-3). We beat Woodward Academy -- one of the top programs in the state -- at their place. We're not going halfway across the state to lose."