0

Last women standing

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- Winning, more often than not, breeds winning.

And if there's ever been a team to win Terrell Academy's first state title in girls soccer, this one just might be it.

"The girls are very focused, very excited," first-year Lady Eagles coach Veann Farr said Monday on the eve of today's GISA Class AA Final Four showdown in Macon with Strong Rock Christian at 7 p.m. "They're not really nervous at all about (what's at stake). They're just ready."

That is, ready to do what no other team in the school's 10-year-old program has ever accomplished. And considering nearly half of the team's roster either played on the Lady Eagles' state title softball squad in the fall, or its state championship basketball team in winter, this group of girls might just have what it takes to reach the school's first state title game -- and also become the first to win it all -- in Terrell Academy history.

"I just think a lot of us have been in these crucial situations before and we don't get nervous in the big games," said leading scorer Marlee Lock, a junior. "We just know how to rise to the occasion."

The pinnacle of Terrell Academy girls soccer, which played its first season in 2000, came two years ago in 2008 when the Lady Eagles reached the very point they're at today. But that team was all but run off the field and back to Dawson that afternoon following a 7-1 romp by Trinity Christian -- a loss that signified a program not quite ready to take that next step.

Junior Millie Foster remembers it well. She was a freshman on that team. And while she said the lopsided defeat no longer stings these days, what it does do is provide motivation for redemption tonight.

"It wasn't too pretty. It was just a blowout," said Foster, the team's goalie who posted a shutout Saturday in the Elite 8 during the Lady Eagles' 6-0 win against Arlington Christian. "I don't think that's going to happen this time. We have too much confidence right now."

As they should.

Strong Rock split with Arlington this season, which bodes well for the Lady Eagles after they crushed AC last weekend. Terrell is 7-2-1 entering today's game, and finished second in Region 3-AA. The "AA", by the way, is not a mistake, even though Terrell Academy plays all of its other sports, boys and girls, in GISA Class A. But in private school girls soccer -- because there simply aren't enough teams to fill a Class A division -- the Lady Eagles have to play up a class every year.

"We know each season we're going to have to play (bigger schools)," Foster said.

Farr then added: "It really doesn't faze them anymore."

Speaking of not being fazed, Farr -- an assistant on the team when the season started -- seems to be as unflappable as anyone. She'd never been a head coach at any level until after the Lady Eagles' first game of the year when she was asked by interim coach Rundy Foster if she wanted to take over full time.

Farr happily accepted -- and hasn't looked back since.

"I was just helping out but it seemed like it could work," said Farr, who teaches at the school and also has two children -- her son, Jonathan, is a senior, while daughter Mary Lauren is in the seventh grade -- who attend Terrell Academy. "I was a little nervous, but I set three goals right away, and one was to just get my first win as a head coach. After that, I just said, 'OK, now let's just have fun and enjoy (the rest of the season).' "

The Lady Eagles have certainly enjoyed Farr.

They collectively supported the move when it happened, despite the fact changing coaches one game into a season isn't usually a great sign a program is headed in the right direction.

"We all felt really comfortable with it," Millie Foster said. "She was an assistant last year and she knew this team's strengths and weaknesses."

There aren't many of the latter, and with eight girls on the squad having been a part of those state title teams in softball and basketball earlier this season -- Locke, Foster, Alex Barfield, Lauren Barfield, Carly Ely, Maura Milliron, Brittney Spilman and Sarah Bridges -- there's more than enough experience at finishing the job on this team.

And the scary thing? Sam Fox, who switches on and off with Foster in goal, is the only senior.

"Because most of the girls play so many other sports, the girls (who come out for soccer) really just play it when the season comes around," Farr said. "They just work hard and have a lot of (natural) ability. Those are really our biggest strengths."

Terrell Academy A.D. Keith Jones, who took over in 1999 -- a year before the school started the girls soccer program -- thinks Farr may be selling herself short in the credit department when it comes to what she's accomplished in her first year.

"She's done a great job. She came in (late), the kids responded to her well and now she has them in the Final Four," said Jones, who coached the girls hoops team to its second consecutive Class A title in March. "I really wouldn't be surprised if they played for the championship. I really give her a lot of credit."

Foster and Locke both said there hasn't been a big deal made at school this week about the cusp of history the program now sits on -- which may be a good thing. After all, who needs the added pressure?

"It hasn't really sunk in yet, but it's in the back of my head what we're close to accomplishing. I try not to think about it," Foster said. "We have to get past (today) first. We can't overlook (Strong Rock). And we won't."

If the Lady Eagles win today, they'll face the winner of Heritage and Frederica -- both Class AA schools -- on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Macon.

Strong Rock, by the way, is another Class AA program, meaning Terrell Academy is the lone remaining Class A school left. Arlington Christian also plays in GISA's middle tier, but the Lady Eagles demonstrated in that blowout win last weekend that class means nothing when you've got talent, a will to win -- and history to make.

After all, the school's hopes for the first state title in soccer rests solely on the girls because Terrell Academy doesn't field a boys team.

That, and more, will be on the Lady Eagles' minds when they take the field today in Macon.

"I think us being (a Class A) team is actually to our advantage -- and has been the entire playoffs," Locke said. "I think teams come in thinking they're going to beat us because we're single-A. But we're good. And I think we've showed everyone that."