LON sports editor Justin Hubbard discusses LOA's girls soccer season
Here’s something that may surprise you: I don’t really care for soccer.
I know – my stories about the sport are steeped in intimate knowledge of the game, so you’d never guess my true feelings about it. (That’s supposed to be sarcastic, by the way; I don’t know nothing about soccer.)
It’s a fun enough sport to photograph because it’s so kinetic and all over the place, I’ll give it that, but I will never sit down and watch it for leisure.
I must admit, though, I felt sadness last Wednesday night when Lake Oconee Academy’s girls soccer team saw its season end at the hands of the Academy for Classical Education (ACE Charter) Lady Gryphons.
The 4-1 loss, which came in the Final Four round of the playoffs, eliminated the Lady Titans from the playoffs. It ended what had been a pretty incredible season.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I had doubts concerning LOA’s girls team entering this season. I knew the Lady Titans had a lot of returning talent but I was curious how they would make up for the loss of Meredith Grill, who graduated and left behind around 40 goals in just two varsity seasons.
The team seemed to be built around her strengths so, with her out of the picture, what would head coach Chris Ingle cook up? It did not take long for my doubts surrounding the team to evaporate.
The first time I really saw the Lady Titans in action this season was on Saturday, March 9. They competed in a tournament held at John Milledge Academy. I spent my day down in Milledgeville watching them and LOA’s boys compete against a few really strong teams.
LOA’s girls capped it off with a strong, 3-1 win over a tough JMA team, which also made the playoffs this season.
After that game, I interviewed Elizabeth Holt, Kelli Stevens and Jackie Hernandez, along with Ingle. We talked about the team’s defense-first approach and I got it. They were not going to light up the score board like they’d done in the past, but the Lady Titans were going to be a strong force.
From then on, LOA lost just two regular season games. The first was at Aquinas and the other was at Class AAA’s Hart County. In their other games, however, the Lady Titans pretty much dominated.
They ran roughshod over Region 7-A opponents Greene County and Crawford County and blew out Social Circle. All of that followed a strong start prior to the JMA tournament when they beat the likes of Baldwin High School and Georgia Military College Prep.
In the end, LOA won its first-ever region title. Thanks to the GHSA separating public and private schools in the playoffs starting this year, the Lady Titans had a legitimate shot at winning a playoff game for once.
And they won two, defeating Drew Charter and then Treutlen. I took the road trip down to Soperton and watched LOA beat up Treutlen a couple of weeks ago. I could not have imagined the program playing so well in such an important game two years ago when it played its first varsity season.
That made last week’s loss even tougher to watch. ACE is a very good team and there was nothing else LOA could have done (its players looked absolutely spent after the game) but that doesn’t make any loss easier to deal with.
Unfortunately, only one team’s season ends in glory. I’ve believed since March 9 that LOA could be that team but fate did not permit it.
LOA, across the school, is brand-new to varsity postseason action. With playoff appearances come playoff losses, and that’s just another new thing for LOA’s student-athletes to experience.
It will make this team better, though.
The Lady Titans will lose seniors Fernanda Patino, Te’Amber Gilbert and Tori Ellison, who will all leave behind important shoes to fill. Their offense will be back in full, though, and I’m told there are rising freshmen on the way who will make for good additions to the roster.
According to Ingle, LOA’s players were already talking about next year’s prospects during their postgame huddle last Wednesday. You want my two cents? That’s exactly the approach they should take because, odds are, they’ll be right back in this position again next year.
This season ended in heartbreak but make no mistake about it: The Lady Titans have arrived.