Columbus, Brookstone set to face off

Teams playing for bragging rights, experience

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 24, 2014 

DAVID MITCHELL/ Columbus High sophomore Emily Harvey battles for the ball against Shaw on Monday at Woodruff Farm Soccer Complex. Both the Columbus boys and girls face city rivals Brookstone on Tuesday at Columbus State.

Yearly matchups between the Columbus High and Brookstone soccer teams carry more of a symbolic significance than anything else.

Wins are nice, but for a different reason. They don't count in area or region standings, but they'll mean a lot when the players, many of whom are friends outside of school, take to social media to discuss the game.

As far as on-field significance, it is mainly about improvement and seeing teams that can help prepare for difficult opponents down the road.

That will be the case when the girls and boys varsity squads face off at Columbus State today (girls, 5:30 p.m.; boys, 7:30 p.m.)

"They are a solid team, a very good team," said Billy Byrd of Columbus, whose Brookstone boys (8-1) are ranked fifth in Class A. "We know a bunch of those kids. Some of them played with these guys when they were in middle school, so we know them well. In Columbus, we're looking to see a style of play that we'll see in the good Atlanta schools down the road."

The Blue Devils (9-0) will undoubtedly test Brookstone.

They lost 15 players from last year's squad, but coach Tom Perry said a strong freshman class has helped give the team a fast start. Perry said he set up the schedule to be more favorable early on, but now the team is in the meat of its schedule and will be tested often.

"We had that learning curve where we got to know each other, but now they're going to get harder and harder," Perry said, adding that seniors Cameron Hite and Brandon Vance have been great in a leadership position, and junior goalkeeper Cory Aycock has been tough to score on all year.

He, too, spoke highly of today's opponent.

"They're always an organized side," Perry said of Brookstone.

"Billy always has them playing smart ball. There isn't a formal city championship, but we'd always like to be able to claim it by beating everyone we play here. It's no different with Brookstone."

On the girls side, Columbus has once again put together a solid squad. At 7-1-1, they have lost only to East Coweta and tied Woodward Academy.

The Lady Blue Devils are coming off a state runner-up finish a season ago, and coach Rusty Oliver said he likes the progress he's seen from his girls.

"It's apples and orange," he said when asked to compare this year's team to last year.

"Even losing one player can change the makeup of the team. That said, I think we're deeper than we were a year ago. We'll have to wait until the end of the year to see if that means we're better, but I'm very pleased with where we are."

He said he is counting on the game with Brookstone to be a litmus test of where his team is and where it needs to go.

Mary Sparks spoke similarly of the Brookstone girls (6-3). Columbus is a challenge that will inevitably push her team forward, she said.

"They have a lot of speed and physicality that we know about," she said. "We're ready to match up, and I think it'll be a good showing for both teams. Playing teams like Columbus gives us the experience we need later in the year."

For his part, Perry just wants to see strong fundamentals out of his Blue Devils squad. If they can do that, he said, the result will take care of itself.

And as much as Byrd wants the matchup to help his team, he joked that he was really trying to help Columbus out, as well.

"I'd like to beat them, of course," he said, laughing. "Kids learn a lot from losses sometimes. I like Coach Perry a lot, so I'd love to do them that favor."

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