Playoff success is nothing new for the high school soccer teams of Whitfield County.
Dalton High School's boys won their fifth state championship in 2019, and three other boys programs in the county have made at least a finals appearance since 2017. Southeast Whitfield won a state title that year, and Northwest Whitfield did a year later.
After the state tournament was wiped out in 2020 because of the outbreak of COVID-19, four local soccer teams have reached the Final Four in their respective classifications in 2021 and are vying to make it a fourth straight season that Whitfield County can boast a state soccer champion.
The boys teams from Coahulla Creek, Dalton and Southeast are all back in the Final Four after each of the trio made it to the semifinal round the last time the tournament was held in 2019. Dalton won state, Coahulla Creek fell in the title game, and Southeast was bounced in the semis.
"It's just good to be back in the Final Four," said Southeast junior Victor Garcia. "I wanted to get two rings in my time in high school, so here's the chance. I believe we can be state champions."
The new contender for state supremacy is the girls program at Northwest. Under first-year head coach Amanda Moore, the Lady Bruins advanced past the Sweet 16 for the first time to reach the Final Four.
"It's special to keep making history," said Moore. "We're not done yet."
These four teams aren't the kind of playoff teams that get hot at the right time in the postseason, though each have reached their semifinal round fairly convincingly. All four are region champions, and three of the four teams are undefeated. The four teams have combined for a 62-2-10 record this season. Even then, both of those losses, which are Coahulla Creek's, came when the Colts played intra-county games against Dalton and Southeast.
The four in the Final Four will look to keep their season-long dominance going in their respective semifinal matchups:
Northwest Whitfield at Marist
The Lady Bruins (13-0-3) hit the road for the first time in these Class 4A state playoffs when they play Atlanta's Marist (15-3-1) in the Final Four on Monday at 6 p.m.
Northwest hasn't yet allowed a goal in their romp through three rounds into the first Final Four in the program's history. Marist allowed one in a 2-1 win over Flowery Branch in the Sweet 16, but the War Eagles are coming off of a 10-0 win over Perry in the Elite 8.
Marist's three losses this season have come against teams that made the Final Four in their respective classifications: Class 6A Cambridge, 5A Blessed Trinity and 3A Westminster.
If the Lady Bruins win, they could find a familiar foe in the finals. Fellow Region 7-4A team Heritage plays North Oconee in the other semifinal.
Dalton vs. Lakeside-DeKalb
The Catamounts (18-0-2) play their Class 6A state semifinal game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Harmon Field against Lakeside-DeKalb (17-2-1).
Dalton, the undefeated top seed from Region 5-6A, takes on the second seed out of Region 4-6A in Lakeside. Lakeside finished second in their region to North Atlanta, which is also a state semifinalist on the other half of the bracket.
The Catamounts earned a convincing 4-0 win over Tucker in the Elite 8 after hanging on to defeat Riverwood 2-1 in the Sweet 16. Lakeside's path to the semifinals has been relatively convincing, with a 3-1 win over Central Gwinnett in the quarters earning them a trip to Dalton.
Lakeside was the Class 7A runner-up the last time the state tournament was played in 2019. Dalton won the Class 6A state championship that year.
Coahulla Creek vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
The Colts (15-2-2) survived the Elite 8 to earn a date with Greater Atlanta Christian (8-8-1) in the Class 3A state semis on Tuesday. Coahulla Creek hosts the Spartans at 6 p.m.
The Colts trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in their Elite 8 game at Morgan County, but roared back to tie the game with four minutes left in regulation and won on penalty kicks to earn their second straight Final Four appearance (with no tournament played in 2020).
GAC comes in with just an 8-8-1 record, but with several games against larger Atlanta-area schools marking some of those losses. The Spartans, the second-seeded team in Region 5-3A, defeated White County 3-2 in the Sweet 16 before winning 5-1 over Pierce County in the quarterfinals.
The Colts are looking to match their 2019 squad, which reached the state finals before bowing out to Westminster. Westminster, which handed GAC their only Region 5-3A defeat, is also a semifinalist this year, with a matchup against Oconee County on the other side of the bracket.
Southeast Whitfield vs. Jefferson
Southeast Whitfield (16-0-3) is back in the Class 4A Final Four after falling in the state semis two seasons ago. They'll host a Jefferson team (11-5-2) that had the same fate in 2019.
The Final Four game is Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Southeast.
Southeast reached the semifinals in 2019 in Class 4A, but fell to eventual champ Oconee County. Jefferson was a Class 3A school in 2019, when the Dragons lost to that year's champion, Westminster.
This year, the undefeated Raiders have scorched through the playoffs, with their closest call being the 2-0 win over Benedictine in the Elite 8.
Southeast has played all of its postseason games at home, while Jefferson has been on the road for the last two. The second seed in Region 8-4A defeated Marist 2-1 in the Sweet 16 and Columbus 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
Jefferson's region mate, East Hall, is also in the Final Four.