One team needed this for a chance to redeem itself. The other needed it as a mark of its maturity.
Motivation aside, that Pinecrest Academy’s boys and girls soccer teams are in the Class A private school playoffs together for the first time since joining the Georgia High School Association in 2009 symbolizes a special moment in the program’s development.
The girls (7-5) will play Galloway at 5:30 p.m., while the boys team (8-3) will face Whitefield Academy immediately after.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Pinecrest head coach Chris Kane said. “I think the kids are excited. They deserve to be. They’ve put a lot of work in.”
Before Pinecrest joined the GHSA, it regularly qualified both soccer teams in the state playoffs as a member of the Georgia Independent Schools Association, but the smaller pool of competition in GISA gave the Paladins a better chance of securing a state playoff berth.
That’s been harder in the GHSA against stronger competition in greater numbers, but Pinecrest soccer had been making progress in recent seasons. The boys team reached the state playoffs for the first time in 2013, even winning a first round game. They returned last season after capturing the school’s first region championship in any sport as a GHSA member only to be upset by Pace Academy in the first round.
And so the Paladins began this season expecting to get back to the playoffs and motivated to atone for last year’s disappointing finish.
“We know we have a chance,” senior forward Logan Hamilton said. “It’s not like we went to the playoffs for some random reason. We got there because we had team work throughout the season and pulled it together.”
The Pinecrest girls team began their season hoping to end five years without a playoff appearance. They knew the math: Four region wins would guarantee a playoff spot.
By March 20, the Lady Paladins were halfway there after a 3-1 loss to No. 1-ranked Fellowship Christian, a close defeat to an elite team that boosted Pinecrest’s confidence. The Lady Paladins haven’t lost since, winning four straight going into the state playoffs.
“It’s created this big excitement around the team,” senior Jessica Satriano said. “We’re all super pumped.”
The crucial element will be the same for each, but in different contexts, said Kane: intensity.
The boys understand that best after that first-round loss to Pace Academy last season. Sure, it hurt that Hamilton did not play after receiving a red card in the regular season finale. But the Paladins feel they lacked the same vigor that turned them into region champions and a state-ranked team from the start that day.
“We were like scared, nervous. I don’t know what you call it,” junior midfielder Lukas Perez-Sierra said. “Without Logan’s presence – Logan’s a formidable dude. He sets the bar. Without Logan the intensity wasn’t there.
“Just make sure you play every game like it’s your last. If you don’t have intensity, doesn’t matter how good you are.”
The girls challenge is more enigmatic. They know they need to play with a level of intensity they’ve yet to experience, a level Kane said that can only be learned by playing in the state playoffs.
But the Lady Paladins intend to stay true to the formula that got them here.
“Definitely to stick to our virtues, which are trust, determination and humility,” Pinecrest’s Erin Houlihan said.