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PREVIEW: Area GISA soccer teams begin march toward state title today

Deerfield-Windsor head coach Aly Joslin.

Deerfield-Windsor head coach Aly Joslin.

ALBANY — Aly Joslin hates looking ahead.

But it’s hard not to.

The Deerfield-Windsor boys and girls soccer coach leads his top-ranked teams onto the field today for their first-round matchups in GISA’s Class AAA state tournament against a pair of lowly No. 4 seeds that Joslin is the first to admit he “doesn’t know much about.”

And that may not matter if DWS handles its business and advances to the Elite 8, where a showdown with Macon rival Mount de Sales likely will await both programs.

“This time of the year, everyone’s pretty good that made it this far, so our plan is to just worry about ourselves and do what we do,” Joslin said Monday. “And if everything goes to form, we’ll probably be seeing (MDS) on Friday.”

The DWS boys (10-2) and girls (14-3) will open with a doubleheader today at home after clinching the region titles last week. The Lady Knights play first at 4 p.m. against No. 4 Trinity Christian, Sharpsburg, while the Knights play in the nightcap against No. 4 Loganville Christian. If both teams win, they’ll host again either Friday or Saturday.

The mere fact that the Deerfield boys are even in this position — a No. 1 seed with just two losses all year — is a feat in itself. The defending region champion Knights came into this year depleted like never before, losing 10 seniors off last year’s team. But led by junior captain Andrew Sullivan (20 goals, 20 assists), a pair of freshmen (Lanier Freeman — nine goals; and Brantley Talley — goalie) and eighth-grader Grant Wollam, who splits time in goal with Talley and has combined for five shutouts in their 10 wins, the Knights are enjoying one heck of surprising season.

“We’re young, but we’re not playing like it,” Joslin said.

As for the girls, there’s no secret who paces this bunch.

“Casey Kincheloe,” Joslin said when asked what his primary key to getting a win today is. “She’s five goals from breaking the school’s all-time scoring record. She’s been massive for us this year.”

Kincheloe, a senior, already has 35 goals this season — 10 shy of the single-season mark of 45 she set a year ago — and if she can pace DWS early, the Lady Knights could leave Trinity in a cloud of dust. And if Trinity double-teams Kincheloe, there’s always eighth-grade scoring threats Rachel Sullivan (13 goals) and Kendyll Freeman (10 goals, 10 assists).

“Our game plan won’t change. We want to go at them early, get ahead quickly and then let our defense take care of the rest,” Joslin said. “We play at a high tempo, and it works for us. When we played Southland recently, we were ahead, 3-0, in the first three and a half minutes. Up-tempo and strike early — that’s our game.”

If Trinity does find a way to threaten offensively, it will have to deal with DWS’ stingy defense, which is led by seniors Lexie Harrison and Mallory Sammons, who have split time in goal this season in an effort to replace All-State goalkeeper Katie Williams, who now plays for Birmingham Southern.

Class AA

ALBANY — One of the most pleasant surprises of the season has been the Sherwood boys and girls soccer teams, both of which will host their first-round state games. The SCA girls, Region 3-AAA’s No. 1 seed, open today at 5 p.m. at Darton State College against No. 4 Gatewood — the defending state champs.

“It won’t be easy,” eighth-year head coach Jason Schultz said. “They’ve got a ton of athletes and a lot of speed, and that can be difficult to defend. They’re probably the best No. 4 seed out there.”

Countering Gatewood’s speed will be a pair of attackers in SCA sophomores — Jordyn Paramore (school-record 26 goals this season) and Kaetlyn Cuff (22 goals) — and a defensive backfield that may be the best in all of Class AA.

Senior Destiny Allen, who signed last week with Truett-McConnell, is a tough-nosed defender who’s hard to get past and has helped led Sherwood to 17 shutouts in its 18 wins this year. Of course, not to be overlooked is goalie Hannah Thompson, who has been in the net all year for the Lady Eagles (18-4-1).

“We going to just keep playing like we have all year with our 4-5-1 formation and being defensive-minded,” Schultz said. “They’re going to try and press us, but we’ve got four strong back that can more than make up for any mistakes we make.”

The winner of today’s opener will face the winner of No. 2 seed Frederica and No. 3 seed Oak Mountain on either Friday or Saturday.

Following the girls will be the No. 2 SCA boys Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Darton against No. 3 seed Monsignor Donovan. The Eagles enter the state tournament with arguably the best boys soccer player — public or private — in Southwest Georgia.

T.J. Clay, The Herald’s reigning Player of the Year, enters this game with 27 goals and is just six shy of breaking his own school record he set as a junior. He’s joined up front and in back by a load of experience — making this season “our shot” to win it all, SCA boys coach Jeremy Davidson said Monday.

“If we’re going to get there, this is the group to take us,” said Davidson, whose top four players — Clay, forward Coleman Bailey and defenders Josh Hutcherson and William Orr — are all seniors. “I think that’s where we have the edge: our experience. I think, athletically, Monsignor may struggle to keep up with a guy like T.J. and the others. I think we’ll be able to score against them, and our defense should handle the rest.”

The winner of Sherwood-Monsignor Donovan will face No. 1 Frederica on Friday or Saturday after the top seed earned a first-round bye.

TERRELL ACADEMY GIRLS: What would the GISA state tournament be without the Lady Eagles from Dawson, who have now been to four straight state tournaments?

No. 2-seeded Terrell, which opens today at home against No. 3 Piedmont, has reached two title games and a Final Four during the last three seasons, but the Lady Eagles (12-2) still have no state title to show for it.

Is this finally the year? Maybe.

“It doesn’t feel like old hat making it this far over and over again. I’m just excited to be back and have another shot,” Lady Eagles coach Veann Farr said.

Juniors Maura Milliron and Brittney Spilman lead TAE in scoring with 15 goals each, while seniors Lauren Barfield and Taylor Haynes, along with freshman goalie Abbie Otto, pace the Lady Eagles’ defense, which has posted six shutouts in their 12 wins this year.

Farr said she expects a fast-paced game vs. Piedmont.

“That’s our game, to go fast, fast, fast,” she said. “We’ve got some kids who can cover the field well.”

The winner of today’s game will play the winner of No. 1 First Presbyterian Christian vs. No. 4 Arlington Christian on Friday.