After becoming the first girls team from Columbus to play in the state championship a year ago, the Columbus High soccer team is preparing to take the next step.
The Lady Blue Devils host Stephens County in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Columbus State’s Walden Soccer Complex.
Coach Rusty Oliver said his team isn’t looking past anyone, but that he expects to compete deep into the state tournament.
“Obviously, the expectations are there with the experience returning on this team,” he said. “We had nine returning starters from last year’s team.”
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That’s a major benefit going into the postseason. The players know what to expect and know how to respond.
Most of all, they know that every game is a grind.
“For our returning players, they have that sense of reality of how much it takes to get to that final game,” Oliver said. “But we expect to be there.”
He stressed that his team isn’t overlooking anyone.
Columbus (12-5) will get Stephens County (8-6) first, which slumped to three consecutive losses at the end of the season. Each came against stiff competition, however.
“All I know is that they’re in a similar position to us,” Oliver said. “It’s the first round of state and they have the same goals. Plus, they’ll be traveling four hours, and I always tell my girls that if we’re traveling that far, we’re going there to win. So I don’t expect them to come in and lie down.”
Oliver said it will be important to jump on Stephens County early to put pressure on the defense.
On the boys side, Columbus will travel to Gainesville to face Johnson High, which is ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA. Johnson hasn’t lost since a 1-0 contest against No. 3 Chestatee on March 22.
A handful of other playoff games featuring teams from the Bi-City area are also being played this week.
The Brookstone girls host Our Lady of Mercy in the first round. The latter had a losing record in the regular season. It had one common opponent with Brookstone (Pacelli), which it defeated by the same margin.
The Pacelli girls will travel to Eagles Landing Christian (10-3), while the boys won their area and earned a bye.
The Brookstone boys, which finished the regular season at .500, will travel to Strong Rock on Friday.
The Hardaway boys won 12 consecutive games to begin the season before finishing out their schedule 2-2 in their final four games.
The Hawks will host Northgate in the first round on Wednesday. The Northgate boys won nine games in the regular season, including four in a row entering the playoffs. It played in a tough region featuring two of the state’s top four teams (McIntosh and Starr’s Mill).
The Northside boys get No. 4 Starr’s Mill on the road to begin the playoffs (6 p.m. Wednesday), while the girls play at No. 3 McIntosh (5:30 p.m. Tuesday).
The Harris County girls will open at No. 1 Whitewater at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.