Both Lassiter soccer teams will host Kennesaw Mountain, while Hillgrove's boys and girls soccer teams will welcome their Walton counterparts Wednesday in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The games at Lassiter’s Frank Fillmann Stadium could go either way. The teams met earlier in the season, with Lassiter winning each of the boys and girls games by 1-0 decisions.
“The playoffs are an entirely new season,” Lassiter girls coach Robbie Galvin said. “We hope our seniors will keep everything and everyone grounded.”
The Lassiter and Kennesaw Mountain boys have a similar makeup in that both take pride in their defense. Kennesaw Mountain coach Daniel DePlanche speaks highly of Lassiter goalkeeper Guillem Fabregas, who has helped Lassiter to seven shutouts on the year going into its game against the Mustangs (14-5).
Meanwhile, Kennesaw Mountain’s defense, behind team MVP Juan Diaz and Tylar Gregg, has not given up more than two goals in a game all year.
Lassiter (11-6) is not a team that scores an overwhelming amount of goals. Vedad Kovac led the Trojans with 13 goals, with the next highest number at three held by six players.
“(Kennesaw Mountain compacts) the middle of the field really well,” Lassiter boys coach David Penny said. “We’re going to try and find 1-on-1 matchups so we can go attack. They do a good job defending the middle and moving the ball forward.”
In the girls matchup, Lassiter will be looking to take away Kennesaw Mountain’s top scoring threat, Ashley Burns, who recently set a single-season team record with 22 goals.
The midfield has carried Lassiter (16-1), with Hal Hershfelt and Karsen Brantley leading in possessions. Mackenzie Ellis has also played an active role on defense.
The Lassiter and Kennesaw Mountain girls met in the first round of the playoffs last season, with the Lady Trojans escaping with a 2-1 win.
As for the Hillgrove-Walton girls game, both teams took heavy hits to graduation following the 2018 season.
While Hillgrove (14-3-1) is senior-laden up front behind leading scorer Amaya Evans, the Lady Hawks are depending on sophomores to help man the middle and the back.
Walton graduated nine seniors from its state semifinal team of a year ago, but it still returned Hannah Casey, who has signed with Davidson. The Lady Raiders (9-5-2) also have had to adjust to a new coaching staff. Following a slow start to the season, they have only lost one game since March 21.
“It’s been a huge improvement from the beginning of the season until now,” Walton coach Marah McEntyre said. “We’re playing together as a team, and that’s been positive. We’re worked a lot on the small things. That’s been the basis of our practices.”
In the boys game, Hillgrove seems to have the advantage.
Going into Wednesday’s game, the Hawks have not lost a game since a 3-2 setback against Carrollton after spring break. Since then, they have won four straight.
With 18 of 23 players returning this season, led by Elijah Peavy and Donovan Sewell, Hillgrove is looking to make a run beyond the quarterfinals after falling to South Forsyth on penalty kicks a year ago.
“I feel like we’re playing well right now,” Hillgrove coach Heath Merrill said. “We expect a good game. I know (Walton is) younger, but they are a big school and they reload with lots of talent.”
With 14 seniors lost from last season, Walton coach Bruce Wade said the Raiders (9-8-1) are playing with nothing to lose and are playing “to the best of our ability.”