CARROLLTON, Ga. -- In a five-minute postgame speech to his team on Friday, Columbus High girls soccer coach Rusty Oliver thanked his seniors, praised the teams effort and stated unequivocally that he would rather be standing with his team after a loss than any other.
That includes Marist, which defeated the Lady Blue Devils 5-0 in a physical Class AAAA championship game at the University of West Georgia.
The loss was Columbus' second state title loss in a row after it fell 2-1 to Allatoona last season. Oliver told his girls not to look at it that way.
"You guys made it to the state championship two years in a row," he told his team. "There are over 400 teams in Georgia, and you guys did it twice. You won 80 percent of your games in the playoffs the past two years."
From the outset, Marist played a physical style of soccer that kept the Lady Blue Devils off the ball and constantly on the defensive. For the majority of the first half, the ball stayed in Lady War Eagles territory, resulting in two goals before the break. Columbus did not have a shot on goal during those first 40 minutes.
The Lady Blue Devils got their first shot on goal in the 46th minute of the game, subsequently increasing the pressure and getting more opportunities.
"There were many minutes where we were the better team," Oliver said. "I want to stress that the score is not indicative of how we played the game."
After about a 15-minute period in which Columbus kept the ball on Marist's side of the field, giving itself a handful of scoring opportunities but coming up empty, the Lady War Eagles scored at the other end on a short tap-in just shy of the 24-minute mark to take a 3-0 lead. The goal appeared to sap Columbus of some of its intensity and, on the contrary, revitalized Marist's attack.
"I don't care if you're a professional player or whatever, anytime you give up a goal like that after you just had a chance to score, it takes something out of you," Oliver said. "It's not easy to rebound from that."
Oliver also took issue with the Lady War Eagles' style of play. Speaking carefully after the game, he congratulated his opponent on a great win, but also shared some pointed remarks.
"They're a quality team," he said of Marist. "I won't take that away from them. But their style didn't impress me, I'll leave it at that."
Asked to expand on what he meant, Oliver said he took issue with the physical nature of the team's play, saying it increased the danger for both teams.
"It's a physical game, I know," he said. "But the physicality of several plays after the fact when the ball was out of bounds, it's not something I coach. We have four officials, and maybe I'm blind. But safety is my primary concern -- for both teams."
Still, the coach stressed the talent of both clubs on the field.
"We lost to one of the best teams in the state," he said. "But they had to beat one of the best teams in the state, too."
The loss ended a five-game winning streak for Columbus, each coming via shutout. On the other sideline, Marist completed a near perfect season, winning 22 games, tying one and losing none. It was the Lady War Eagles' fifth consecutive shutout and their 18th of the season. During the playoffs, Marist outscored opponents 40-0.
"It's impressive," coach Sergio Sadler said. "The players believe in a system and believe in what the coaches do to help them get better."
Columbus will lose two seniors heading into next season, forward Mary Helen Collier and defender Ivey Burbrink.
Oliver said his team will miss those two, thanking Burbrink for her leadership throughout the season, but said he expects to be back in this game next season.
"Last year, we said we'd win this one for our seniors, and we'll do the same next year," he said.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Friday at West Georgia
Goals--Marist, Caroline Strom (18th minute), Katie MacGinnitie (22nd minute, 72nd minute), Kelsey Carrier (56th minute), Meredith Selvey (23rd minute). Assists--Marist, Clara Gastaldi, Frances Monardo, Grace Carrington. Records--Marist, 22-0-1; Columbus, 16-6.