Throughout the regular season, Columbus High girls soccer coach Rusty Oliver had stated that this is the best team in school history.
And Saturday the Lady Blue Devils added some validity to that sentiment.
Freshman forward Ashley Reynolds scored in the 30th minute to propel Columbus to a 1-0 victory against perennial power Westminster in Class AAA quarterfinals at Kinnett Stadium.
The Blue Devils will play in the semifinals for the second time in three years when they travel to the winner of Oconee County and Spalding on Wednesday. The Blue Devils only other appearance in the semifinals ended with a 2-0 loss to Westminster in 2006.
“Coming in about 99 percent of the people assumed that Westminster was going to cruise through,” Oliver said. “But I have felt all along that this is the best team we have had. And to beat a team like this, it might be the best team ever in Columbus.”
The Blue Devils scored the only goal of the game in the 30th minute when Westminster goalie Ginny Fahs appeared to collide with one of the Westminster defenders. The ball bounced off Fahs toward Reynolds, who placed it into the left corner of the net.
“We changed our attack a little,” Oliver said. “We knew that they were a great team with a great attack, but we didn't want to play a defensive game. I knew we were going to have to score. Ashley got us one, but I didn't know if that was going to be enough. It was.”
The Columbus defense led by Hope Sims and goalie Jackie Ellis limited the number of scoring chances for the Wildcats, who had played in six straight state championship games and won five titles during that stretch.
Westminster scored 14 goals in its first two playoffs games but managed to get just 10 shots on goal. Ellis, who started in goal for the first time in the playoffs, made 10 saves. In the opening minutes, Ellis made a leaping stop, preventing the Wildcats from taking an early lead.
Ellis' athletic stop was one of the reasons that Oliver opted to start her instead of Hailey Hinson, who made a game-saving save in the second round win against Richmond Hill.
“On such a tight field, we wanted the most athletic player in net,” Oliver said. “She has the most pure soccer ability on our team. She also is a pure athlete.”
The Blue Devils never generated much of an offensive attack in the second half, but they didn't need to. Now, the Blue Devils are two wins away from winning the state championship. And that would only confirm Oliver's thoughts. Goals: Columbus - Ashley Reynolds; Westminster - None. Assists: Columbus - None. Westminster - None. Goalies: Columbus - Jackie Ellis; Westminster - Ginny Fahs. Records: Columbus 16-4-1; Westminster 15-3-1. Next game: Columbus at Oconee County/Spalding winner on Wednesday; Westminster's season over.