The 2019 season came to a close for the GHSA Class A-Public Area 2 champion GMC Prep girls soccer team Tuesday night.
The Lady Dogs fell 2-0 to the Atlanta Classical Academy Lady Cavaliers, the Area 5 champions, who will now take their shot at earning a Class A-Public girls soccer state championship next week. An evenly-matched first half gave way to a pair of early second-half goals for the visitors from Atlanta, forcing GMC Prep to play from behind for a second consecutive game. Unlike in the quarterfinal round against Trion, the Lady Dogs were unable to come back and force overtime.
“Missed opportunities,” GMC Prep head coach Tommy Howell said on what he felt the difference was in the semifinal bout. “I don’t think they were a better team, I think we just had a lot more missed opportunities. They came out and scored those two goals in the second half so we were playing catch-up.”
The Lady Dogs threw a new wrinkle into their gameplan for the semifinal matchup, giving corner kick duties to senior defender Lyssa Blair, allowing the team to use Logan Mitchem’s height in the box. The gambit nearly paid off only 30 seconds into the contest, but the connection from Blair’s foot to Mitchem’s head sent the ball just over the net.
The Lady Cavs controlled the ball slightly more than GMC Prep in the first half, but never found the net themselves. Their attempts either sailed wide or landed in the waiting arms of home keeper Macie Newell. The Lady Dogs would get their best opportunity about six minutes before the half when junior Whitley Ward streaked down the field on a breakaway. An ACA defender caught up though, and took Ward down in the box, yielding no call from the official. The no-call had GMC players, coaches, and fans up in arms, but that did little to change the referee’s mind. Ward would be pulled with an injury following the physical play but returned to the field before halftime, which came with the scoreboard still showing 0-0.
Atlanta Classical would take advantage of a couple of GMC defensive miscues early on in the game’s final 40 minutes. Their goals came only three minutes apart, which took the wind out of the home team’s sails for a stretch.
“Everywhere we kicked the ball there was someone from their team waiting on it,” Howell said. “You don’t want to say that things weren’t meant to be, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way and it didn’t roll our way today.”
The Lady Dogs had at least three quality opportunities from the 25-minute mark on, but ball would not meet net, ending the home team’s landmark season. The 2019 campaign was one of many firsts for GMC Prep girls soccer. They earned the program’s first area championship, first playoff win, and first trip to the state semifinals.
“I reminded the girls of how far we’ve come in just the last two years, from winning just two games to winning the area championship and getting to the Final Four,” Howell said on what he told his team following the loss. “When you get to this point losing hurts, and it hurts bad. When you invest this much time and get this close and it doesn’t work out for you, it’s pretty painful. But I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of where they’ve come and I thought we lost with integrity. We fought until the very end.”
Atlanta Classical will now compete for the GHSA Class A-Public girls state championship next week at either Mercer University in Macon or McEachern High School, located in Powder Springs. The Lady Cavs will take on ACE Charter, who defeated Lake Oconee Academy 4-1 in the other semifinal.