After playing one another for the state championship two years ago, the Walker and Whitefield Academy boys soccer teams will battle again Wednesday at Whitefield, this time in the Class A private-school state semifinals.
That year, Whitefield won 2-1 to win the state championship in Macon. While the Wolfpack (16-3) returned to the postseason in 2018 and made a deep run to the semifinals, Walker missed out on the playoffs after taking a hard hit to graduation.
Now, the Wolverines (14-5) are embracing the opportunity.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Walker coach Lamar Howard said. The kids have all bought in as a team. I don’t have anyone chasing stats and trying to do it all on their own. We’ve been able to find some success this season.”
Walker is relying on speed this season, particularly in the midfield.
Sophomore Jude Coke is the anchor in the middle, according to Howard, and he has been efficient in using both his right and left foot in distributing the ball. Junior Nick Rath splits time in the midfield and has 35 goals on the season. Sophomore Caden Mamoun brings speed and has done well in complementing Rath, and A.J. Brown is arguably the fastest player on the squad.
“(Walker) beat Paideia in the first round, and that’s one of our three losses,” Whitefield coach Steve Hellier said. “They are clicking hard on all cylinders right now.
“We are concerned about Rath. He is the one we will have to contain.”
Whitefield has been solid up front and in back this season, having scored 106 goals and giving up only 12.
The Wolfpack escaped with a 1-0 victory St. Anne-Pacelli in the second round. Sophomore forward Luke Wilson scored the goal, while goalkeeper Jack Krahel finished with four saves, including a 1-on-1 at the end of the second round.
In Class AAAAAAA, the Hillgrove boys and girls teams will both head to Lambert for a quarterfinal doubleheader, with both Longhorn teams ranked No. 1 in the state.
Donovan Sewell, one of Hillgrove’s scoring leaders last season, has been relatively quiet for the Hawks (19-1) this season, but he has taken his game to another level in the playoffs. He scored a goal in Hillgrove's 2-0 win over East Coweta in the first round and added two more in a 3-1 win over Walton in the second.
“We know that (Lambert has) a great team, and we have a great team,” Hillgrove boys coach Heath Merrill said. “It’s going to come down to a little bit of luck. Hopefully, opportunities will present themselves, and we finish the shots that we need to.”
The Hillgrove girls will be facing a Lambert team that is 20-0 on the year and has given up just three goals this season. The Lady Longhorns have outscored the opposition 14-0 in the postseason.
The Lady Hawks (15-3-1) know they cannot afford to miss out on scoring opportunities. Although they beat Walton 1-0 in the second round on Brooke Hart's second-half goal, they let some scoring chances get away in the opening half.
“This is a game where you can’t get away with just a few girls doing their job,” Hillgrove coach Shannon Center said. “I’m not going to ask them to play perfect, but I am going to ask them to recover fast.”
In Class AAAAAA, Pope (14-3) moved into the state quarterfinals after beating east Cobb rival Sprayberry 3-1 in the opening round and Habersham Central 2-1 in the second.
The Greyhounds have benefited from having 14 seniors on the roster and have had success spreading their scoring around, with Spencer VanBuskirk, Daniel Staysh and Sebastian Montero handling the bulk of the goals.
Going into Wednesday's home game against Tucker (16-2-2), it will likely going to come down to playing stout defense against the Tigers' front row.
"They have some power up top," Pope coach Samer Kaddah said. "We're just going to have to communicate in the back, and we can’t get caught falling asleep. We have to stick to our soccer."