Leading the way are the River Ridge girls and Creekview boys teams, which won their respective region titles and will take a No. 1 seed into the playoffs. Those two squads will also have home-field advantage as long as they remain in the playoffs — not only due to their seeds, but by the design of the brackets, which would allow them to remain home through the semifinals, before the neutral-site championship games are played at Kennesaw State and Emory.
Creekview coach Shawn McClellan feels that playing at home will give his team a definite advantage, not only for Tuesday’s opener with Villa Rica, but throughout the playoffs.
“As long as we win, we will have home games,” McClellan said. “A lot of these teams are playing on (artificial) turf, and now they have to come and play on grass. I think that’s a big deal because the ball certainly bounces differently.
“We should also have a pretty big crowd here. The parents and the student body really support our program.”
The River Ridge girls won a region title in Class AA three years ago, but this was their first — and, likely, only — in Class AAAA as they will jump up yet another classification next season. The Lady Knights had to beat the top team in the other half of the subregion in order to claim the region title.
Coach Sarah Goodbread said it was a big moment for her team.
“We won not only the region, but won home-field advantage throughout the playoffs,” she said.
River Ridge will host Sandy Creek in its opener Wednesday.
Goodbread said the strength of her team is their unity.
“They are really a family,” she said. “They like being at practice. They like being together. It helps everyone feel like they are a part of something better.”
The Creekview boys claimed the first Region 7AAAAA title in program history, but it wasn’t decided until the final game of the regular season.
Creekview, Pope and Riverwood were tied atop the region standings, but with the Grizzlies having beaten the other two teams in head-to-head contests, they were the champions. Because deciding a champion required a tiebreaker, McClellan said the team’s 1-0 victory over Pope last week, which was decided in a shootout, made a big difference.
Both region-championship teams had a common thread of veteran players. The Grizzlies have 11 seniors on the roster.
“The leadership absolutely paid off,” McClellan said. “This is, by far, the most experienced team we have had. Our defense is our strength. We are pretty good at transition. We have scored in every game but two, and our defense is really good. Our defense is pretty solid.”
Because the River Ridge girls has had the luxury of winning games by a wide margin, they don’t have a narrow core group of players. Instead, many player have worked their way onto the field, which has bolstered the feeling of family and created a lot of depth.
Goodbread feels that depth will be River Ridge’s strength in the playoffs.
“That is the biggest difference between this year and last year,” Goodbread said. “We have a lot of depth. Even when our subs come in, everyone on the team is just as confident that they are as good of a player as the person who came out.”
Couple the experience with the fact that River Ridge will soon more up a classification, and Goodbread concludes that this is the year for the Lady Knights.
“I’ve had some girls that have been on the team for five years, that have played since they were eighth-graders, so I feel like this is finally our year for everything to come together,” she said.
In Region 7AAAAA, the Sequoyah boys fell in behind Creekview, Pope and Riverwood for the No. 4 seed. The Chiefs will go on the road at Lithia Springs.
Also in the playoffs are the Etowah girls, who earned the No. 4 seed from Region 5AAAAAA. They will travel to Peachtree Ridge for a game Wednesday.
The Woodstock boys earned the fourth seed out of Region 5AAAAAA as well. They will travel to Mill Creek for the opening round Tuesday.