Coming off a 7-9 campaign and fielding an even younger group, West Forsyth girls soccer head coach Jason Bayush knew this season would be a challenge, an uphill climb. That's why when the team got off to an 0-2 start Bayush needed to do his best to keep things in perspective.
“I knew we were good, but we're young,” Bayush said. “You've got to kind of put the puzzle pieces in place early on and, well for us it all worked out.”
It sure has. Fast forward to Tuesday night, where freshman Kylie Gazza scored three goals to lift West over Centennial in a huge region contest—huge, because the 4-1 result gave the Lady Wolverines their first region championship in the school's history. Junior Izzy Lynch also scored in the win.
“Knowing how hard our girls have worked to accomplish our goals, it was pure enjoyment,” Bayush said. “You don't get those feelings very often. Exuberance, joyness, almost like it didn't even happen.”
West's season has been even more impressive considering the competition. Lambert, one year removed from playing in the state championship last season, seemed primed to return to the top of the league. South Forsyth and Johns Creek, now 12-1 and 10-3, respectively, also were in the mix.
So for West, just qualifying for a playoff spot seemed like a goal. But Bayush had a feeling before the year that his team could sneak up on the rest of the region. They upset South 2-1 on March 4, took a 1-0 result over John's Creek and earned even more legitimacy with a 2-1 win over non-region opponent Lassiter, who entered the game ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA with a perfect 13-0 record.
“When we sat down at the beginning of the season our goal was to win the region title. It has to be,” Bayush said. “Our drive wasn't really there at the beginning of the season, but you could see it coming. The girls really raised their level of play.”
Bayush said the team looked strong and got valuable minutes for reserves while team leaders Brooke Pirkle and Carsen Parker were competing in the state basketball playoffs, which left their soccer availability in limbo. Once they returned to the pitch, they carried their playoff mentality with them.
“They kind of were still in playoff mode and it rubbed off on everyone,” Bayush said.
Since March 10, West has not lost. They're 7-0-1 in that span with a score differential of 16-3. Their playoff precursor will be Friday's match against No. 3-ranked Lambert (13-2) at home.
All of a sudden the team is re-calibrating its mentality and preparing for the state playoffs.
“Anyone can beat anyone, whether it's our region or in the playoffs. We know that,” Bayush said. “For our girls, obviously this is the first time they've been in the playoffs. I think that they are excited, confident and believe they can make a run.
“I'm very proud of them,” Bayush said.