Playoff preview: Five local high school soccer teams prep for the playoffs
Published 3:09 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023
With all the local high schools out for spring break,, it means we are on the eve of the GHSA soccer playoffs. This year will see five of the six public school teams — Callaway boys and girls, LaGrange boys and girls and Troup boys — try and make a run to a state title. Most of these teams are regulars in the postseason and will be looking to do more than just make a cameo appearance.
The teams will have to find their rhythm in a flash with all five having to go through a stretch of 14 days or more without playing a game when April 13 and 14 come around.
After setting the program record for wins a season ago (16), the Cavaliers got right back to work this season and have already totaled 14 heading into the first round of the AA state playoffs.
Callaway is not chasing the win records. This season the team wants to win a playoff game after taking a heartbreaking 2-1 loss at home to Dade in the opening round of the AA playoffs a year ago. This year the Cavaliers will host Walker on April 13 to kick off their playoff run.
Now, in year two, coach Mike Petite is searching for his first playoff victory as the girls head coach. In fact, the team as a whole is searching for its first playoff win since a 10-1 win over South Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs in 2018.
Callaway was led up top by senior Kate McAteer and junior Autumn Brown, who finished one and two in goals scored on the team with 39 and 20, respectively. Juniors Mary Kate Baswell and Kadence Leithleiter will be the key figures in midfield while seniors Mya Lawton and Raine Hunt are the pivotal figures at the back at center-back and goalkeeper. Baswell led the team with 16 assists in the regular season.
Callaway shared no common opponents with Walker (9-6) and will have to rely on finding a winning formula on its own. Walker finished third in its region. The Wolverines played in the private single A classification up until this season. They have adapted well to the higher classification and have had more success than a season ago in which they went 5-10 overall and 2-2 in the region to enter the playoffs as a third seed.
This season will see the Grangers take a long road trip to start off their 2023 playoff run, traveling all the way to Savannah to take on Islands High School. It will be a tough test for the Grangers but also a feeling they aren’t unfamiliar with 12 of their 18 games played this season on the road. LaGrange went 9-9 over those 18 games and finished third in region 4-4A after a 3-1 loss in the regular season finale to two seed Whitewater saw the Grangers lose a chance to host a playoff game for the second year in a row under head coach Jon Callahan.
The Sharks are a dangerous opponent and have hosted a playoff game for six seasons in a row now — not including the COVID shortened 2020 season. Islands finished this season 8-5 and lost only once in the region — to powerhouse Southeast Bulloch.
The Grangers are led up top by Karley Perry and Sam Cottle, who finished as the joint highest goal scorer on the team with 20 apiece. Perry also led the team with 10 assists. Freshman Reese Humphries has enjoyed a stellar first campaign with the team and could prove to be an x-factor if the Grangers are to make a deep run. She finished the season with nine goals and eight assists. Tatum Fritchley can also chip in goals from midfield, finishing with eight on the season, but by and large the goals come from Cottle and Perry who combined to score over half of the team’s goals on the season.
The Cavaliers’ boys soccer team has had a season full of highs and lows, which was expected from a team that had to go through a rebuild. As the season went on, Callaway found its footing as a team and put the pieces in place to make a playoff run. Every game Callaway played in this season was a highly entertaining encounter with the team scoring at least one goal in all but one game. The Cavaliers finished the season with an 11-7 record overall and 5-2 in region play. The Cavaliers will be on the road to Drew Charter (Atlanta) on April 14.
Drew Charter enjoyed a stellar 2023 regular season, going 11-2-1 in region play and earning a two seed with a 7-1 region record. The teams shared two common opponents this season — Columbia and Redan. Drew Charter beat both teams by 10 goals while the Cavaliers beat Columbia 3-0 and Redan 6-2. The Cavaliers will have their work cut out for them as they look to make the second round of the AA state playoffs for the second successive season.
The major difference between last year and this year — besides the makeup of the team — is the fact that the Cavaliers got to host a playoff game a season ago and will be on the road to start the 2023 playoffs.
Freshman Rickey Vaughn has been the man leading the lines despite his youth. He leads the team with 23 goals and is second on the team with seven assists. The Cavaliers will also have to rely heavily on the veteran leadership of senior Nelson Herrera, who finished the season with 20 goals and nine assists and is the main playmaker for Callaway. Journee Jordan is the only other Cavalier to score in double figures this season, finishing the regular season with 10.
LaGrange has a clear path to make a deep playoff run after beating Whitewater 2-1 in the regular season finale last Thursday to claim the region 4-4A title as well as a one seed in the playoffs for the first time since 2021. That year the Grangers fell in the second round of the playoffs to East Hall 3-1. The Grangers are looking to get over that round of 16 hump and make the quarterfinals after falling in the second round a season ago 3-2 to North Oconee on the road.
LaGrange will not have to worry about going on the road until the quarterfinals at the earliest.
The Grangers will have a comfortable matchup in the first round — if there is such a thing — as Wayne County (4-9-2) will have to travel all the way across the state to take on a formidable opponent in the Grangers. The Yellow Jackets have not won a playoff game since beating Union Grove in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.
With a win in the opening round, the Grangers will host the winner of Spalding and Cairo in the round of 16. Both of these teams fell in the round of 16 a season ago.
The Grangers will have to continue to rely on Piedmont University commit Davis Knight, who led the team with 25 goals and 14 assists this season in just 18 games played. Jordan Bryant made a position switch this year and has thrived in the opposition’s box, scoring 21 goals and providing nine assists after not scoring a single goal a season ago. These two have combined to score over 75% of the team’s total goals this season and will be relied on heavily as the Grangers eye a deep playoff run. Another player that made a position switch — Jan Alvarado — who played winger a season ago but now finds himself as the creative deep lying midfielder, could prove to be a major x-factor for the Grangers.
The Tigers will be making their second successive trip to the playoffs and will once again have to prepare for a road game. Troup essentially had to win its final region game of the year and produced a sensational performance to beat LaGrange 1-0 and claim a spot in the playoffs.
The Tigers had more than a few games canceled due to inclement weather as well as a shortage of GHSA officials in the area, which meant the Tigers played in 14 games despite having more initially scheduled. Troup went 9-3-2 overall and 5-2 in the region to produce one of the best seasons in program history. Despite having just two region losses, the Tigers will enter the AAAA playoffs as a four seed and be on the road to no. 1 seed Benedictine, who made a run to the state quarterfinals a season ago.
This year’s Cadet squad is 11-5 overall and finished first in their region with a 7-1 record. It will be a long road trip for the Tigers, who will have to travel all the way to Savannah for the game on April 15.
Troup is led by brothers Diego and Luis Merida, who finished as the team’s top two scorers this season. Senior Banneker Johnson provides the team a ton of leadership and ingenuity in midfield. Recent Point University signee Nolan Barton will be a key figure on the right side of the Troup attack and defense.