Experience, strong defense carry Fellowship Christian

The Fellowship Christian girls soccer team is taking advantage of an experienced lineup and a strong defense to put itself in position to make a run at its first state championship since joining the Georgia High School Association in 2006.

The Paladins reached at least the semifinals the past five seasons, including championship-game appearances in 2012, 2013 and 2015, but have never been able to get over the hump.

Fellowship lost just one starter to graduation from last season’s state runner-up team, and this year the Paladins are 8-1 (4-0 in area play) and No. 1 in Class A in the Eurosport rankings. The Paladins opened the season with an 8-2 loss to Class AA No. 2 Pace Academy but have won eight consecutive games since, outscoring their opponents 48-2 with six shutouts.

Shannon Milhollin has been strong in goal, and coach Tim Rice credits the play of backs Sarah Kate Jones, Olivia Karam, Catherine Tribble, Lexie Lake and Jenny Foster for the team’s defensive success.

“Offensively, we have not been at full strength, but we should be after spring break,” Rice said.

Fellowship Christian has two area matches this week against St. Francis before taking next week off for the break.

Here are some other teams that have been outstanding protecting the net, all of which have allowed less than five goals:

*Lassiter: The Trojans (11-0, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA) are setting the standard on defense. They have recorded nine shutouts and allowed just three goals, two of which came against the reserves in a 5-2 victory over Cherokee last week. "I emphasize to the defense to not make it easy for the other team," Lassiter coach Robbie Galvin told the Marietta Daily Journal. "Make them have to earn their goal. It's hard to lose a game if you don't get scored on."

*Newnan: The Cougars were 11-1 overall and 6-0 in Region 3-AAAAA heading into Monday night's game against rival East Coweta. They allowed just three goals in their first 12 games, two of which came in a 2-1 loss to Norcross. Newnan has outscored opponents 55-0 during a seven-match winning streak. Senior twins Frances and Mary Bryan Arnall share time in goal.

*Pike County: The Pirates reached the second round of the state tournament last year, losing to eventual champion St. Pius, and are ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA with an 11-1 record (8-0 in 4-AAAA). Pike County has outscored its opponents 71-4 with 10 shutouts. The Pirates gave up two goals each against Spalding (a 3-2 victory) and Columbus (a 2-0 loss).

*South Forsyth: The War Eagles have allowed four goals in a 10-1 start.

*McIntosh: The top-ranked Chiefs (AAAAA) are 9-0 and have allowed two goals.