A good Providence Christian boys soccer team overwhelmed Buford back on Valentine's Day, defeating the youthful Wolves 5-1 in their season opener.
The two squads meet again Wednesday in the second round of the Class AA/A state playoffs, and Buford coach Brandon Manders expects a much more mature effort this time vs. the Stars. The Wolves led Providence 1-0, but a defensive miscue gave the Stars a goal and took an emotional toll on Buford's players.
That happens when your starting lineup features nine freshmen and sophomores along with one junior and one senior.
"The guys have grown up a lot," Manders said. "I think we'll be a lot more relaxed going into Providence this time."
The Wolves (13-5) have played their best soccer late in the season with nine wins in their last 10 matches. They also won the Area 8-AA/A title despite losing their first area match to Hebron.
It wound up being their only area loss of the season. It didn't hurt that Buford moved out of tough 6-AA/A - away from traditional powers Greater Atlanta Christian and Providence - but Manders made sure he kept those teams on the schedule. The Wolves lost to Providence and GAC this season but defeated former region rival Wesleyan.
"It didn't bother us too much (to switch regions) because we knew we'd play GAC, Wesleyan and Providence in the regular season," Manders said. "They're great rivalries and we didn't want to lose those. We have 11 teams in our new region but I made sure to save three for (GAC, Wesleyan and Providence)."
Buford's success this season is directly related to its improved defense. The team lost star forward Misael Martinez - and his 58 goals - to graduation but has found a new way to win.
Its list of victories this season also includes a 1-0 win over Tucker, a 13-6 playoff team from AAAA.
"We haven't even scored 58 as a team this season," said Manders, whose squad has 50 goals. "I told them, 'Guys, we don't have to score 58 goals if we play better defense than we did last year."
Goalkeeper Alex Ritchie has anchored the Wolves' defense after Manders talked him into coming out for the team this season. Ritchie played his freshman season, but missed his sophomore season with an injury and didn't play as a junior.
Francisco Bravo has been steady at sweeper, Tony Arroyo has been a catalyst at center midfield and Cole Chandler has provided a spark at forward.
Gwinnett's other remaining boys team in AA/A, top-ranked GAC, hosts eighth-ranked Fellowship Christian on Wednesday. Girls playoffs
The state's girls soccer teams play their second-round games tonight with three interesting AAAAA games involving local teams.
Top-ranked Parkview (18-1) hosts No. 3 Pope and fifth-ranked Brookwood travels to No. 8 Norcross, a tough draw for the Region 7-AAAAA champion Blue Devils. Grayson, ranked fourth, faces a road game at Walton.
In AA/A, No. 4 Buford hosts No. 5 GAC tonight and No. 1 Providence hosts sixth-ranked Holy Innocents'. Buford beat GAC 3-1 earlier this season.
Unranked Winder-Barrow has a difficult game tonight at top-ranked Marist in AAAA.
Top boys teams face
Top-ranked Chattahoochee and No. 2 Harrison have major hurdles in the Class AAAAA boys second round on Wednesday night against Gwinnett powers Brookwood and Peachtree Ridge.
Brookwood, ranked ninth, travels to Chattahoochee while Peachtree Ridge, in its first playoff run, is on the road at Harrison.
No. 3 Parkview hosts No. 4 Walton in another key second-round boys game Wednesday.