This week, 12 area soccer teams are beginning play in their respective state tournaments with high hopes of making a deep run at a state championship.
Perhaps none have as high of expectations as the Columbus girls soccer team, which begins play on Tuesday against Lakeside-Evans at Kinnett Stadium.
While the Lady Blue Devils are almost always in state title conversation, having been to the state semifinals in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014 and finishing as state runners-up in 2012 and 2013, coach Rusty Oliver said on Monday that perhaps none of his teams have been as good as this season’s.
“Our one loss this year, I chalk that up to coaching error on my part, not the players,” he said. “This is one of the best teams if not the best team we’ve ever had here.”
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It’s easy to understand his optimism. Ranked No. 2 in the state behind perennial power McIntosh, the Lady Blue Devils are 13-1-1. They tied Woodward Academy, which is ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA and lost 4-3 to North Atlanta, which is ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAA.
Outside of that, Columbus has recorded shutouts in 10 of their wins and allowed more than one on just two occasions. Two of the shutouts came in their past two games, 1-0 wins over No. 3 Northgate and No. 6 Alexander.
“It starts with defense for us,” Oliver said. “We obviously have great players all over the field, but our defenders are not back there because they don’t have the ability to score. Many goals are scored out of the back.”
Oliver said the team is right where it needs to be heading into the playoffs, and now has to be able to execute and stay healthy going forward.
“We want to get the win, we want to leave the field healthy and we want to play a solid team game like we’ve been doing,” he said.Lakeside-Evans finished the regular season 8-7-1.
A long list of other teams in the area are playing playoff games this week, as well. The Smiths Station boys played at Enterprise on Monday to start the action, and five teams — four girls and one boys — will play on Tuesday.
In addition to Columbus-Lakeside girls out of GHSA Class AAAAA, the Northside girls play at Evans, Harris County girls at Greenbrier and the Smiths Station girls at Prattville in AHSAA Class 7A.
On the boys side, Columbus shares a common opponent with the girls, as it hosts Lakeside-Evans at Woodruff Farm.
On Wednesday, the Hardaway boys host Richmond Academy at Woodruff and the Northside boys will travel to Houston County. On Thursday, it will be the Chattahoochee County girls at Lovett in Class AA, and on Friday three boys teams will play. Spencer travels to Savannah Arts in Class AAA, Chattahoochee County hosts Wesleyan in Class AA and Pacelli hosts Atkinson County at Woodruff in Class A.
High school soccer playoffs
Tuesday, April 28
GHSA Class AAAAA boys
Columbus vs. Lakeside-Evans (at Woodruff), 5:30 p.m.
GHSA Class AAAAA girls
Northside at Evans, 5 p.m.
Harris County at Greenbrier, 5:30 p.m.
Columbus vs. Lakeside-Evans (at Kinnett Stadium), 6 p.m.
AHSAA Class 7A girls
Smiths Station at Prattville, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 29
GHSA Class AAAAA boys
Hardaway vs. Richmond Academy (at Woodruff), 6 p.m.
Northside at Houston County, 6 p.m.
Thursday, April 30
GHSA Class AA girls
Chattahoochee County at Lovett, 5:30 p.m.
Friday, May 1
GHSA Class AAA boys
Spencer at Savannah Arts, 5:30 p.m.
GHSA Class AA boys
Wesleyan at Chattahoochee County, 6 p.m.
GHSA Class A boys
Pacelli vs. Atkinson County, TBA