Six reigning state champs will be major factors again in new seven-class system
The GHSA’s move from six to seven classifications for the 2016-17 school year, and the corresponding shifting of schools, means that at least two classes will have new girls soccer champions this season.
Class AAAAAA champion Lassiter moved to the new AAAAAAA, and AAAAA champion McIntosh remained in that classification, leaving the state’s second-largest class without a defending champion.
The same holds true in Class AA, which lost defending champion Lovett to AAA. St. Vincent’s, the runner-up in AA last season, is the current No. 1-ranked team.
All six teams that won state championships last season, regardless of classification before or after the shifting, are well positioned for another championship run. Lassiter, McIntosh, St. Pius, Westminster, Lovett and Fellowship Christian are all ranked in the top four of their classes.
Here’s a look at where the defending champions stand with about half the regular season remaining.
*Lassiter: The Trojans won the first girls soccer state title in school history when they beat West Forsyth 2-1 in the Class AAAAAA final last year. Lassiter spent the early part of this season ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAAA after starting 6-0-1 but has dropped to No. 3 in the Score Atlanta poll and No. 4 in the Eurosport rankings after losing two out of three matches, including a 2-1 loss to West Forsyth in a championship-game rematch. The other loss, 2-1 against Roswell (4-3 in penalty kicks), came in region play.
*McIntosh: The Chiefs (5-4-2) were ranked No. 1 in AAAAA by Score Atlanta last week but are likely to drop after an 0-3-1 stretch that included one-goal losses to powerhouses Northgate, Marist and Whitewater and a 1-1 tie against Class AAAAA No. 1 St. Pius. McIntosh is No. 4 in the Eurosport rankings behind Whitewater, Buford and Veterans. Things won’t get any easier for the Chiefs in the next week and a half with upcoming matches against Class AAAAAA No. 2 Harrison (tonight) and rival Starr’s Mill (March 30.)
*St. Pius: The Golden Lions won their fourth consecutive title and seventh in eight years when they beat Marist 2-0 in the 2016 AAAA final, and there’s a good chance the two will meet again in this year’s championship game. Neither team has lost a match, and they hold the top two spots in the rankings (St. Pius is No. 1). The Golden Lions, whose only blemish was the tie with McIntosh, will face Lovett on Tuesday and Jefferson on Friday before the showdown at Marist on March 28. Marist plays Blessed Trinity on Friday.
*Westminster: The Wildcats won their third championship in four seasons and 10th overall when they beat Blessed Trinity 4-0 in the 2016 Class AAA final. This year they are 7-1 start and the consensus No. 1 team in AAA, but the challenging part of the schedule is in front of them with upcoming matches against Lovett, Decatur, Pace Academy, Pope, GAC and Marist. Westminster also plays three games in the Smoky Mountain Cup in Gatlinburg, where it will face J.L. Mann, the top-ranked team in South Carolina.
*Lovett: The Lions, the 2016 Class AA champions, have moved up to AAA this year and are competing against Westminster, among others, in one of the state’s strongest classifications. Lovett (4-5) is the only reigning champion with a losing record, but the five losses all came against teams ranked in the top six in their classifications, and three of those were against teams in higher classes. The Lions, who are unbeaten in region play, have a tough week ahead with games against St. Pius (Tuesday) and Westminster (Thursday).
*Fellowship Christian: The Paladins rolled to the Class A championship last season, outscoring Paideia, Eagle’s Landing Christian, Stratford Academy and Atlanta International 19-2 in the playoffs. Fellowship Christian (6-1-1) opened the 2017 season with a 2-2 tie against Class AAA No. 5 Pace Academy, then won six consecutive matches before a 6-1 loss to AAAA No. 3 Blessed Trinity on Monday. The Paladins are ranked No. 1 in the Score Atlanta poll and No. 2 behind Wesleyan in the Eurosport rankings.