Talk to the No. 4 Brookstone boys soccer team and you get a sense this team had a feeling it would be in this position.
The core of seniors on this roster has played together since youth soccer, building over its four seasons of high school ball into a team that will compete in the Class A state semifinals against No. 1 Atlanta International.
Just because they were confident this was a possibility, though, doesnt diminish the excitement and awe the players feel at being one of four teams left remaining.
Senior Miller Page called it a rare opportunity, while senior South Carolina signee Martin Ramos struggled to put into words how they felt.
I knew wed have a chance, he said. But now that were here in the final four, its like wow.
Excitement gave way to determination, however, as the players prepared for the final time on Monday before Tuesdays game, which will be played at 7 p.m. at Brookstone.
We didnt come to compete, Ramos put it bluntly. We came to win.
That, of course, is a tall order against a team ranked first in the classification, which has lost only to Class A defending champion Paideia and undefeated Greater Atlanta Christian and tied Class AAA defending champion Woodward Academy.
The two teams faced two years ago, a 4-0 win for AIS, but Cougars coach Billy Byrd said his team was confident it had a chance to reverse fortunes.
We played them two years ago with a team that wasnt as strong as this team, and we were in that game, he said. The score didnt reflect it because we pulled a defender to try and get something going offensively, but we were in it.
Junior keeper Ben Holt was a freshman that year. Senior Stephen Poydasheff broke his toe in the contest. Senior leader Martin Ramos was a sophomore, as were a handful of other key seniors.
Theres a familiarity there and we feel like were better prepared this time, he said.
Byrd and Page agreed that the team wanted to be the aggressors in this contest despite the fact it may be considered the underdogs. For one reason, if they lose, the Cougars want to go down swinging. For another, its the only way they know to play.
We want to do what got us here, Page said. Thats the only way we know how. We cant get flustered or play passively because of the stage were on.
Brookstone was last in this position in 2002, when it lost to Decatur a game shy of the championship. This year will be the first time the Cougars have had a chance to host a semifinals match, and theyre hoping that will give them the edge they need to advance to the finale for the first time.
One advantage is the field surface theyll play on. AIS plays on artificial turf, while Brookstone plays on grass.
It does help a bit, Byrd said. At the end of the day, though, our guys have to beat their guys.
If Brookstone wins, it will face the winner of Paideia and Our Lady of Mercy at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Emory.
Ramos said hed only briefly allowed himself to think about the possibility of playing for and winning a state championship.
Ive talked about it, he said. Like, what would we do if we won state? I dont know. Itd be pretty shocking and wed, of course, be excited.
But we have to get there first.