While celebrating on the field following Dalton High School's win in the Class 6A boys soccer state championship game last Friday, Catamount sophomore Zeke Ortiz said this:
"It feels amazing," said Ortiz, who scored a critical goal just nine seconds after halftime to put Dalton up 3-1 in a 3-2 win. "It's something we've been working towards all season and it's been a childhood dream of mine to win a state championship."
Ortiz is young enough that he wasn't on Dalton's previous state championship winning team, just two years prior. He wasn't on any of the Catamounts' five previous state championships, all since 2003, but he grew up seeing nothing but success from Dalton and the high school soccer programs in Whitfield County.
Why wouldn't a kid in his cleats grow up dreaming of celebrating a state championship? They've seen it happen.
It happened for three programs this year in Whitfield County. Dalton grabbed its sixth state championship. In Class 4A, Southeast Whitfield won its second state championship with a 4-0 victory in the finals over East Hall. After a few years pursuing one, Coahulla Creek broke through with its first state championship this year with a 3-1 win over perennial champ Westminster in the Class 3A finals.
Three state championships in one county. It's a feat not accomplished by a Georgia county in boys soccer outside of the high-volume counties in Metro Atlanta. DeKalb County was the last to have three state champs in 2016.
But before Ortiz and the other players his age helped make history, they watched it happen.
Dalton kicked off this modern era of soccer dominance in Whitfield County in 2003 with its first state title. Then, in a now ongoing stretch beginning in 2013, Whitfield County has had at least one state champion in eight of nine seasons. Dalton got three straight from 2013-2015. 2016 was the off year, then Southeast won in 2017, Northwest Whitfield in 2018 and Dalton again in 2019.
There was no state tournament held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but, chances are that at least one of the Whitfield County soccer titans might have won then, too. The three 2021 champs keep that stretch of dominance going.
So it's no wonder the moniker of "Soccertown, USA" is beginning to catch on in the city already known as "The Carpet Capital of the World." The new nickname is now official, even if just by a city of Dalton proclamation at a celebration for the three state champions on Wednesday.
Soccer is special in Whitfield County. Dalton's proved that for years now, but it's not a one-program thing. There's plenty of special soccer players to fill the other schools surrounding Soccertown.
Coahulla Creek, Southeast and Northwest are proving that as well.
And, it's not limited to the boys side of things either. That's been where the traditions have been built, but the girls programs might be headed there also.
For the first time, a girls team in Whitfield County went to the Final Four this season. Northwest Whitfield's girls team won Region 7-4A, finished with just one loss and fell just short of making it four teams in the county to reach the state title game. They ran into a buzzsaw of a Marist team in the state semis.
Dalton and Southeast's girls team both made the Sweet 16. Christian Heritage and Coahulla Creek's teams made the playoffs.
Soccer is special in Whitfield County, Georgia. The people of the county have known it for years.
Now, Soccertown, USA is putting the nation on notice.
Daniel Mayes is the sports editor of the Daily Citizen-News. Write to him at email@example.com.