Don’t misunderstand the Columbus girls soccer team. Wednesday’s semifinals match against Veterans High (7 p.m. at Perry High School) is a big deal.
They know it will be a challenge and that a single mental mistake can abruptly end their playoff run.
But the Lady Blue Devils have already made it to the state championship in consecutive seasons. The state semifinals are a hurdle they’ve already cleared in the past, so this year’s edition is a means to an end to try and reach the ultimate prize.
“I think we’ve plateaued,” coach Rusty Oliver said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great plateau to be at. But until we win a state championship, we won’t get the full respect. We’re not looking past Wednesday, but we have a big goal we want to achieve on Saturday.
“There are a hundred teams that are happy just being there. We’re not one of them. We want to finish it off.”
Before Columbus can focus on the enormous elephant in the room — Marist, which has won every postseason match 10-0 so far and is the heavy favorite in its semifinal against Alexander — it must get through Veterans. It’s a rematch of last season’s semifinals, which Columbus won 1-0. The Lady Blue Devils also came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Veterans 4-3 during the 2013 regular season.
Senior Mallory Lotz and junior Lane Burbrink said they and their teammates were already hearing from Veterans players leading up to the contest.
“They’ve already been posting on Facebook, you know, that it’s going to be different this year,” Lotz said. “They can talk, but it just matters how we play. It’s motivation, too. We want to beat them more because they’re talking so much about it. It energizes us.”
“They’re out for revenge,” Burbrink said. “We’re out to prove we’re better. We already know we are, we just have to prove it again.”
Despite the confident talk, which understandably comes with back-to-back wins against Veterans and an 18-1-1 record this year, the girls said they understood the challenge.
“We’re definitely not taking it lightly,” Lotz said. “They’ve made it this far two years in a row, too. They’re obviously a good side. At the same time, we know we’re good enough to win.”
“They have a great defense,” Oliver elaborated. “One mental mistake can cost us everything. The fact that we’ve been here, we know what one game or a few minutes or one mental mistake can do. Our season can be over. And then we’d never know what we could do against Marist. There would be a lot of what-ifs.”
So, what does it take?
“Composure,” Lotz said.
And depth. And experience. Columbus has all three.
“They have a strong defense and strong forwards,” Oliver said. “I don’t think they’re as balanced as we are, though. They’re similar to us in that they like to attack out of the back, but I think our balance across the board gives us an advantage.
“In years past, I’d need a sub and have to hide them on the field. This year I can put in a sub and there’s not much of a dropoff.”
Despite being stuck on the plateau, as Oliver described it, a win in this game would be significant for Columbus tradition.
It would mean a third straight trip to the state final and a likely crack at a rematch against Marist, which won state 5-0 a year ago. It would be the first time a class at Columbus has played in three championship games, and it would give this year’s junior class and opportunity to go all four years in 2015.
“It’s more motivation,” said Burbrink, a junior. “We talk about it all the time. We want to be the class that goes all four years. We don’t know what it’s like to lose except for the state championship.
“We don’t want to know.”