Taking much of the attention during the recent boys soccer playoffs have been milestones. Whether it be area firsts or school-specific firsts, the notable achievements within the Whitfield-Murray County region have garnered much of the spotlight in recent weeks.
For two area schools, the next goal should be developing a history of consistent postseason appearances and runs. For two others, that stage is in the rearview window.
When four area teams advanced to the GHSA state playoffs — the most for the Whitfield-Murray County area — it garnered praise. When those same teams won in both the first and second rounds, it again marked a new reason to praise the area’s high school soccer success. When North Murray won the Region 7-2A title, it marked the school’s first varsity team region crown. When the Mountaineers followed it up with two state playoff wins, it became the school’s first team to reach the quarterfinals of a state playoffs bracket. When the Bruins became the first soccer team in school history to win a state playoff game, they followed with another.
To achieve so many firsts, it requires a not-so-distinguished past. North Murray is a young school, being in only its third year. The Mountaineers are just now starting to build up a sense of program history. Northwest, while being older, was relatively unsuccessful in the sport of boys soccer until recently — only one other season, 2006, did the Bruins qualify for the state playoffs.
For both teams, the season ended Friday. The Mountaineers could not defend home field in a 6-1 loss to Westminster, and the Bruins fell 3-2 in a heartbreaker to Starr’s Mill. The season may be over, but it is just the beginning for these two soccer teams. This year is one to use as a building block for years to come.
“That is definitely a goal,” North Murray coach Matt Chambers said. “Our goal was to make the elite eight this year. The standard now is that we win and go deep in the playoffs. Next year will be a little different for us because we go into 3A competition, so next year we want to go into the state playoffs and be competitive.”
The Bruins will be in Region 7-4A next year with Southeast Whitfield and Dalton in the new six-classification format, which could result in a more challenging region slate. Southeast coach Jamison Griffin applauded this Bruins squad and said a one-goal loss to Starr’s Mill shows they could beat Southeast or Dalton “on any day.”
“I don’t think it will be any easier next year for Dalton and Southeast to make it in the playoffs,” he added. “With Northwest coming, that will put a very competitive team in our region.”
Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins believes his team’s — and the area’s — future is bright.
“Putting these same four teams through can become a very common thing in Murray and Whitfield County,” Scoggins said. “For us, I believe we can come back. We had injuries and sorts, and by the end of the game (Friday) we had eight underclassmen on the field.”
While two of the four boys teams can use these playoffs to establish a base for the future, the other two already have it established.
Dalton and Southeast each have been competitive in the soccer state title race since 2002, with the Catamounts successes dating back to the 1990s.
The Raiders reached the state title once, while Dalton has done so twice and became co-champions in 2003. Both teams seem to have created an unbreakable foundation considering the decade of consistency.
“I like the fact that we are successful, and it highlights our team,” Griffin said. “I like the fact that the team is recognized in a good light. Five or six years ago, I wasn’t getting calls...about soccer.”
Griffin said the goal for any team making the postseason is a state championship. Unfortunately, Southeast fell victim to a penalty kick in a 1-0 loss to its postseason kryptonite, St. Pius X, and Dalton lost 2-1 on the road to Carrollton.
Both schools should be proud of their teams. There is nothing wrong with being a quality team and losing to a quality team. There also is nothing wrong with being disappointed in ending the season in the quarterfinals, a round the Cats and Raiders have advanced to a combined 11 times. In fact, it shows exactly how far the two programs have come: they expect to compete for a championship each year.
“When I came in two years ago at North Murray, I researched and studied Southeast and what they did,” Chambers said. “If I could model North Murray after them or Dalton, that would be great. I think they are elite programs for sure.”
While only seeing Dalton and Southeast face each other on the pitch twice — the Raiders won both games via shootout — I am already a fan of the rivalry. When the brackets were revealed, one of the first things I looked at was where both teams were positioned. The possibility of a third matchup with each’s season on the line was an appealing possibility. Add the fact that it would have happened in the championship, and the area’s biggest soccer rivalry becoming the state’s biggest soccer rivalry wasn’t out of the question.
After a postseason of milestones for area boys soccer, that is the next milestone I would like to see happen. Both Dalton and Southeast have made the state championship once before, and both go into the season with the belief they can do it again. Why couldn’t everything click in the same season?
Here’s to hoping another milestone is recognized come this time in 2013.
Devin Golden is a sports writer at The Daily Citizen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.