Four old, four first-time champions highlight end of soccer season

Credit: Mark Brock

Credit: Mark Brock

The rise of soccer talent in the state could not be more evident after the conclusion of the boys soccer season where four first-time champions emerged alongside four storied programs adding to the trophy case.

The champions entering unfamiliar territory were Kennesaw Mountain (7A), River Ridge (6A), Toombs County (2A) and Columbus (3A).

Kennesaw Mountain defeated Campbell 2-0 to win the 7A title and after a scoreless first half, Kaleb Dawit and Allan Aguilar found the net minutes apart and nearing the end of regulation to put the Mustangs ahead.

River Ridge beat Sprayberry 3-0 to win the 6A title. The Knights relied on one first half goal and two second half goals from a trio of juniors to secure the program’s first state championship while denying Sprayberry its first title. Junior Nolan McLure put the Knights ahead at the 13:35 mark of the first half. Junior midfielder Gustavo Almeida expanded the margin at the 21:59-minute mark of the second half to put the match out of reach. Junior forward Kingston Courts capped scoring late in the second half to secure the victory.

Toombs County’s first title came in a 2-0 defeat of Model in the 2A championship match. Forward Yovanny Zamorano scored at the 27:17-minute mark to put Toombs up 1-0 and less than two minutes later, defender Braley Dietrich found the net to cap scoring. The Bulldogs moved past Kendrick 10-0, Berrien 9-0, Drew Charter 3-0 and Fellowship Christian 3-1 on the path to the championship.

Columbus upended Hebron Christian 2-1 in double-overtime and a goal from senior forward Jackson Briggs in the second overtime period proved the dagger. Kalen Robinson, a senior forward, scored the opening goal of the match in the first half to put Columbus up. Hebron’s star freshman Benji Gunji tied the game four minutes later to force extra time. Briggs found the net at 8:23 in the second overtime period to put Columbus ahead for good. Columbus moved past Hepzibah 10-0, Mary Persons 3-0, defending-champion Coahulla Creek 2-0 and Oconee County 1-0 on the way to the championship.

McIntosh (5A), Westminster (4A), Atlanta International (A Division I) and Georgia Military (A Division II) had previously won championships.

McIntosh defeated Decatur 2-1 to win the program’s ninth championship in the Class 5A match. The Chiefs went up on a goal from Adan Dollens at the 30:35-minute mark and Mile Strong expanded the margin at the 16-minute mark before halftime. Decatur got on the board with five minutes left in regulation but could not manage another goal.

Westminster’s 2-0 victory over defending-champion Johnson-Gainesville in the 4A championship match marked the team’s 15th soccer title.

“It obviously feels much better than last year,” said Westminster head coach Scott Snyder. “I was very proud of our effort last year, I thought we gave them the best game they had all year. With that said losing was tough, so being able to avenge that loss this year was huge.”

Atlanta International captured the program’s third title with a 2-0 victory over Paideia in the Class A Division I title match. The Eagles went up 1-0 on a strike from junior Anthoine Jacob with 12:53 left in the half. Senior Nico Decoufle put Atlanta International up 2-0 with 8:14 left, giving the Eagles an insurmountable lead.

Georgia Military won back-to-back (sans 2020, COVID) titles in 2019 and 2021 and after beating Atkinson County 4-1 in the Class A Division II championship, the Bulldogs added another storied chapter. Tommy Carty put the Bulldogs up 1-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half. Sophomore Bennie Huff extended the lead to 2-0 with eight minutes left in the first half. Just before halftime, senior Brian Sherwood found the net to extend the lead to 3-0. Atkinson County got on the board on a goal from Alan Castillo early in the second half, but the Rebels could not rally. Carty’s second goal was insurance, extending the margin to 4-1.