After all, before Lewis’ arrival, the Lady Blue Devils had never won a state playoff game. In fact, they were having trouble just getting in the win column.
“Some of them, their goal was literally to just win one game,” Lewis said. “During their entire time at Marietta, they had not won a region game in four years.”
How things have changed.
Marietta had to win a tiebreaking scenario to qualify for the state playoffs as the fourth seed from Region 4AAAAAA, but with a decisive 2-0 victory over Region 2AAAAAA champion Druid Hills last Wednesday, the Lady Blue Devils proved to themselves that they belong.
It was the first state playoff victory in Marietta history. For Lewis, who’s in his 23rd year of coaching, the win represented the culmination of a culture change that he installed by starting practice earlier in the school year, as well as creating interest in the sport in the community.
“Immediately, they were wondering why we started so early,” Lewis said about the early practices. “But I told them, what doesn’t challenge you won’t change you. I just wanted to know that, every time the players are practicing, there’s a purpose behind it, and that they aren’t just kicking the ball around. You could tell they all slowly began to buy in.
“This year was actually the first year we had a summer camp and actually got the middle school and elementary school involved. ... We’re heading in the right direction. I think a few more generations of connecting with the middle school — I think, within two years, we will be where we need to be.”
That means raising the bar even higher. Marietta (9-8) has a winning record in 2014 after winning six, five, four and four games the previous four seasons. According to Lewis, youth will lead the way. While seniors Rylie Nelson — who Lewis called his “general on the field” — Jennifer Yanes and Yadira Castillo have been keys, the coach attributed the maturation of his freshman and sophomores to the team’s new foundation.
“The youngsters have matured so much,” Lewis said. “They’ve come a long way.”
Lewis also likened Nelson’s game as a defensive signal-caller to a chess match.
The next move? Taking down Douglas County tonight in tonight’s 7 p.m. second-round game in Douglasville. It will be a rematch from the regular season, in which Marietta lost 5-0
“I’ve actually coached eight of their 11 starters,” Lewis said. “I had no idea we’d meet them in the second round, but, ironically, I feel like it’s the one team we can turn around and actually beat.”
While Marietta’s newfound focus puts its next opponent on high priority, Lewis also said there’s no doubt the team’s playoff victory was more than rewarding.
“I told the players to soak it all in,” Lewis said. “You’re creating a memory, but you have a chance to do something great, and once you taste that little bit of success — once you taste something with sugar in it, you don’t want to go back to the un-sweet stuff.”