An area championship, two playoff victories, and a trip to the GHSA Class A-Public state semifinals.
GMC Prep girls soccer’s 2019 season saw the program earn a lot of firsts, and while it was undoubtedly a team effort, sophomore midfielder Logan Mitchem was literally and figuratively at the center of all that success. Playing in just her second campaign at the varsity level, Mitchem scored 25 goals, averaging more than one per contest, and accumulated 14 assists throughout the team’s 21 games. Her skills landed her on the 2019 Class A-Public All-Area 2 team and also gave her The Union-Recorder All-County Girls Soccer Player of the Year title. This marks the first year the newspaper has named a girls soccer player of the year and second time a Girls All-County Soccer Team has been named.
“She was the focal point of our team,” GMC Prep head girls soccer coach Tommy Howell said of Mitchem. “Anytime we were in a crucial situation, that’s who the girls looked to.”
Like many standout athletes, Mitchem started playing sports at a young age, and she eventually reached a time when one would have to take precedence over the other.
“I've been playing soccer since I could walk, basically,” she told The Union-Recorder in a Thursday phone interview. “My parents threw me into it, and once I got old enough I decided it was the sport I wanted to play and not softball. That kind of crushed my dad’s heart a little bit.”
Now Mitchem’s tall frame can be found out on the soccer pitch two separate times throughout the school year — in the fall for travel season with her club out of Warner Robins and again in the spring with the GMC Prep Lady Dogs. Serving as the meat in the rising junior’s soccer sandwich is basketball, a sport that helps her remain active through the winter months while also keeping her from getting burnt out on soccer after the grueling travel season. While her soccer coaches don’t enjoy being without her in the early portion of the schedule, she doesn’t see herself skipping basketball in her two remaining years of high school.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Mitchem said of her time spent on the hardcourt. “It’s kind of a nice break from soccer.”
GMC Prep girls soccer isn’t exactly a program with a winning tradition. The year before Mitchem entered high school the Lady Dogs won just two games, but things really took a turn for a better in 2018. The team won 12 games, setting a new program record, but still missed out on the playoffs thanks to being situated in a competitive GHSA area. Although Mitchem and the Lady Dogs didn’t get to the postseason her freshman year, it provided some much-needed proof that the team could compete at a high level.
“I think that helped the team realize we could reach these goals that we had,” Mitchem said reflecting on her first varsity season. “Before then we had a losing record and didn’t look so hot, but we actually got to win some games so that showed us we were capable of doing some damage.”
Mitchem also credits an uncharacteristically large coaching staff for her own and the team’s improvement over the last two seasons.
“One thing we didn’t have before that helped us this season was our large coaching staff,” she said. “Our two community coaches, Lauren Childers and Scott Johnson, are younger, but they know what they’re talking about. They really pushed us this year, and all the girls were able to rally behind them because they believed in us, so that helped us believe in ourselves.”
Mitchem entered her sophomore campaign with more confidence thanks to the team’s success the prior year, the added experience under her belt, and the teachings of her coaches. After coming over from the basketball court, she fell right into place and helped the team position itself for a shot at the program’s first-ever area championship. That opportunity came April 16 against ACE (Academy for Classical Education), exactly one month after the Lady Dogs defeated ACE 2-1 in Macon. As fate would have it, the scoreboard would read the same way once the rematch was complete, granting Mitchem and the Lady Dogs the Area 2-Public championship and a very important top seed heading into the state playoffs.
“It was really, really cool,” Mitchem said of getting that area title. “None of the girls on the team, including me, had ever experienced anything like that before.”
The playoffs would see the Lady Dogs matched up against Dooly County. Although it was not the first time the GMC Prep girls soccer program had advanced to the postseason, the game did provide another first. The Lady Dogs railroaded the visitors from south Georgia 10-0, granting a mercy-rule victory that provided GMC girls soccer with its initial playoff win. Mitchem provided a hat trick in the stomping, but there wasn’t much time for celebration as she and the team had to turn their attention to a much tougher task in the state quarterfinals.
The Lady Bulldogs of Trion High School, an area champ just like the GMC girls, were next up with a trip to the state semifinals on the line. As one would expect, the deeper-round playoff matchup proved to be much more of a challenge than the opener. Trion struck first early, but before the game was over Mitchem would show the visitors and everyone watching why she should be considered one of the top players in GHSA’s Class A. With the Lady Dogs down 0-1 with only 15 minutes left in regulation, the then-sophomore was took a throw-in from deep in Triton’s end. Mitchem connected with a teammate who quickly returned the ball and she handled things from there, deftly maneuvering through the Trion defense despite being outnumbered. When she saw her window, Mitchem floated the ball through a tight window over the Trion keeper’s head and tied the quarterfinal contest at one goal apiece. She wasn’t done yet though. On to overtime, the game went and the tension increased tenfold. Early in the extra period, GMC was granted a free kick shallow in Triton’s end, and as was customary Mitchem handled the duties.
“I was thinking, ‘This could be it. This could be our only opportunity in overtime to score,’” she said of her mindset getting ready to send the ball downfield. “Both teams were gassed after having already played a lot of soccer. I remember taking a deep breath and just praying that somebody would get on the end of that ball I was about to play. Thankfully, Emily Arp pulled through and got the golden goal.”
The Lady Dogs held Trion off for the remainder of overtime and got their spot in the state’s Final Four — another first for the program all in the span of one season. The huge win served as one of two major highlights for Mitchem from the 2019 season (the other being the area championship), but to her head coach, it was just another excellent showing from his standout midfielder.
“Her doing great things got to where it was just such a constant,” Howell pointed out. “She’s always positive, she’s a great teammate and a great player to coach. When you score 25 goals in a season, it’s kind of hard to narrow it down to one game where she really stood out.”
The next round held what Mitchem called the toughest challenge her team faced in 2019 as GMC was set to square off against Atlanta Classical Academy for a state championship berth. An outstanding defensive stand by ACA, coupled with a subpar performance from the Lady Dogs, ended GMC’s season one game short of its final goal, though. The pain from that loss did not get any better the following week when Mitchem and many of her teammates watched Atlanta Classical lose to ACE — a team the Lady Dogs had beaten twice — in the state championship.
But that frustration goes a long way to show that expectations for the GMC girls soccer program will only continue to increase as the team moves into the future.
“We should have been out there,” Mitchem said of the state championship game. “Atlanta Classical just did not play well in that game and I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why couldn’t they have played that way against us?’ The whole school has high expectations for the entire soccer program. Obviously, the boys won state and we made it further than any other GMC team ever has. The fact that Atlanta Classical lost to ACE and we beat ACE — I just think that goes to show that could be us next year.”