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Championship or bust: Darton women's soccer on path to region title

 Darton’s Shelby Bush heads a ball during practice Wednesday in preparation for today’s women’s soccer Region XVII Tournament showdown with Middle Georgia, which the Lady Cavs have already beaten twice this season, 2-0 and 9-0. (Photos by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Darton’s Shelby Bush heads a ball during practice Wednesday in preparation for today’s women’s soccer Region XVII Tournament showdown with Middle Georgia, which the Lady Cavs have already beaten twice this season, 2-0 and 9-0. (Photos by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

CLARKSTON -- Bring it on.

Those three words have been echoing around the Darton College women's soccer team's practice field for the past week as the Lady Cavs prepared for the XVII Tournament.

The top-ranked Lady Cavs, who open up tournament play with Middle Georgia College in today's semifinal game at noon in Clarkston after a first-round bye Thursday, have kept their message simple this week -- bring it on.

"We're ready," sophomore captain Taylor Benton said. "We've got confidence, belief. And if we believe in ourselves, we can accomplish anything."

The Lady Cavs, who are ranked No. 9 in the nation, accomplished a lot during the regular season, finishing 13-2-2 overall and 12-0-2 in the region. Those two ties were both to Georgia Perimeter, which is playing in the other region semifinal game today against South Georgia College.

A championship game Saturday afternoon between Darton and Georgia Perimeter is likely looming, and the Lady Cavs plan on bringing that rally cry with them all the way to a region title.

Bring it on.

"That's the whole team's attitude," sophomore Lindsey Warner said. "We want to show everyone that we can beat Georgia Perimeter. Everyone thinks that we are just going to lose. We are going to bring it, for sure."

Darton has outscored region opponents 101-2 this season and has only been scored on by Georgia Perimeter in a pair of 1-1 ties. Despite that disparity in region games -- including 9-0 and 2-0 victories against Middle Georgia -- Darton coach Ken Veilands has the Lady Cavs thinking that they have something to prove.

"We beat them 2-0, but they celebrated after losing to us 2-0 like it was a win for them," Veilands said. "I think that left some desire in our mouth. We want to go out there and make sure it's very clear that we can turn it on when we want to."

But this isn't the first time the Lady Cavs -- who have been led all season by Sashanna Campbell of Jamacia, the No. 2 scorer in all of NJCAA Division I with 32 goals -- have had pressure put on them. With several returning leaders and some highly-touted incoming players, a lot was expected of Darton at the beginning of the season. The Lady Cavs opened up the year with a mediocre 3-2 record and had what Benton called breakdowns in "unity and communication" during those first five games.

"We had a rough start at the beginning, but we have learned from it," Warner added. "We know what we did wrong and we know what to expect. We corrected it, and I think we will do great."

Those problems have since been solved and now there are just two games standing between Darton, a Region XVII title and a trip to the NJCAA national tournament. But Veilands has been cautioning his team not to look past a Middle Georgia squad that has nothing to lose in today's game.

"It's very simple: You can't get to Perimeter without going through Middle Georgia," Veilands said. "You have to look at this as a road block to the final, and it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be Perimeter."

If it is Georgia Perimeter, the Lady Cavs will need to prove that they can capitalize on opportunities around the goal. In both 1-1 ties in the regular season, Darton vastly outshot Georgia Perimeter but couldn't find the back of the net.

"We dominated both times we played them," Benton said. "I think both time have been a lack of concentration toward the end of the game. You just have to dig down deep and push through the last few minutes, which are the most important minutes of the game."

Veilands said part of capitalizing on those opportunities is developing a "soccer attitude."

"We need to pick our heads up and finish every chance we get," he said. "When we are around that goal, we are going to find a way to put goals in. Our attitude is going to be like we are the best ones out here and we are going to play like it.

"It's almost like an attitude of trying to overwhelm the other team."

In other words, bring it on.