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Watts' leadership critical to Lions' success

Five years ago, Peachtree Ridge started its girls soccer program.

The level of play has come a long way from that first team - a couple of teams have qualified for state - but the program is very much a work in progress. It's still in the early stages of building an identity as well.

But the Lions have gained notice with some strong play in recent seasons, along with the presence of one of the county's top players, Christine Watts.

Watts, the Daily Post's girls soccer player of the year, was the major factor on the field for the Lions' past four teams but also was key this past season as a captain.

"I think she's created a very high bar for the younger players to follow, which is what you expect and want your top players to do," Peachtree Ridge coach Bill Holleman said. "She set a standard for leadership as well as individual performance."

The Lions had a unique blend of youth and experience on this year's team, and Holleman credited Watts for her role in bringing those two together. That was a major focus for the South Carolina-bound standout coming into this season, as she worked to become a better leader.

The improvements seemed to help as Peachtree Ridge got back to the state playoffs after missing in 2008.

"We had a very good season," Watts said. "We just came together. This was the team where the most friendships were made and we got really close. There were no little cliques and I think that really helps on the field. ... Overall we had a really great season. It's the best one we've had by far."

Not that the results were always ideal.

The Lions lost a close one to North Gwinnett for the Region 7-AAAAA title, then lost to Grayson on an ultra-fast, heart-breaking goal off a kickoff in the state playoffs. They learned some tough lessons during the season, but Watts focused on positives when she wrote letters for each of her teammates.

She handed them out at the season-ending banquet, her final act of high school leadership.

"I just said I know every single one of y'all has heart and those of you who are going to play next year, take our mistakes and learn from them," Watts said of her letters. "Those that want to go on and play in college have the talent to do so. I just was saying how this is the best team I've played on, not just soccer-wise. Even though we didn't have the most talent, we all had the biggest hearts and we played until the buzzer every game. We've definitely made our mark at Peachtree Ridge."

Watts made a pretty large mark on the field, too. She had 23 goals and 14 assists this season, battling through her share of defensive attention from the opposition.

But she is used to that from three previous high school seasons. She still had a combined 45 goals and 16 assists her junior and sophomore seasons.

"When you look beyond the goals and the scoring capability, she was the major part of our offense, but the other side was the leadership she brings as captain," Holleman said. "This team had a lot of older girls and a lot of younger ones. But she was able to bring them together, make them all get along and come together."

That was Watts' final act as a Lion. She was satisfied with her four years of work, with the goal of establishing Peachtree Ridge as a top girls soccer program.

"It was tough because other teams like Parkview and Brookwood have been around for so long that they already have a program that's so set," Watts said. "All they have to do is keep building but we have to start from scratch on a lot of things. It's tough, but I think we did the best we could the past four years."

Player of the Year: Christine Watts, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.

Team highs of 23 goals, 14 assists

Coach of the Year: Judson Hamby, Parkview

Led Panthers to third straight Class AAAAA state title

First team

Samantha Abrahart, GAC, Sr.

26 goals, 22 assists

Danielle Au, North Gwinnett, Jr.

27 goals, 9 assists

Washida Blackman, Brookwood, Soph.

Team-high 18 goals

Maureen Buff, Parkview, Jr.

4 goals, 6 assists

Taylor Jackson, Parkview, Sr.

13 goals, 13 assists

Cherrelle Jarrett, Parkview, Sr.

Key defender for state champs

Kristina Pascutti, Parkview, Sr.

14 goals, 14 assists

Paige Pickert, Wesleyan, Sr.

28 goals, 35 assists

Chelsea Ramsey, Parkview, Sr.

Goalie had 18 shutouts

Jessica Sapp, North Gwinnett, Sr.

Top defender for Bulldogs

Kim Spence, Parkview, Jr.

18 goals, 11 assists

Second team

Kaitlin Baker, North Gwinnett, Sr.

Madeline Barker, GAC, Jr.

Anna Douglas, GAC, Soph.

Sage DoVale, Collins Hill, Jr.

Rachael Duane, Wesleyan, Sr.

Megan Geiger, Parkview, Sr.

Jordan Miller, Brookwood, Jr.

Morgan Mitchell, Parkview, Sr.

Kelly Penston, North Gwinnett, Sr.

Alexis Scott, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.

Brooke Van Baush, Grayson, Jr.