0

State powers GAC, Westminster collide

Many of them were thrust into the starting lineup right away as freshman, so the Greater Atlanta Christian boys soccer seniors got their careers off to a rough start.

They lost four of their first five games, all to ranked teams.

Since then the successes have far outweighed the struggles. The Spartans have gone 69-11-1 since that slow start in 2006, winning the 2007 state title and playing for another championship tonight at Westminster.

"It's unquestionably (GAC's best senior soccer class)," GAC boys coach Thom Jacquet said. "They've won four straight region titles. This is their third time in a championship game. They have major college signees. It's just a very strong group."

After the slow start in 2006, GAC reached the state finals that season and won state the following year. But last spring, an upset loss to Dublin ended the Spartans' season in the quarterfinals.

Three state finals appearances in four seasons isn't bad. But tonight GAC faces a Westminster team making its fourth straight championship game trip.

"It should have been 4 of 4 for us, too, but that's really what's been motivating us all year," Jacquet said.

The GAC seniors' final game will be a test against Westminster, the team that shares the state's No. 1 ranking with the Spartans. The host Wildcats (16-3-2) won the 2006 and 2007 state titles in AAA, but fell in last season's championship game.

Reclassification dropped Westminster down and set up this showdown with GAC (19-2), which has had success against the Wildcats in the past. GAC won 4-1 in 2008 and 1-0 in 2007 after tying 1-1 in 2006.

"It's two really good teams going at it," Jacquet said. "They'll do things that we'll have trouble with and we'll do some things they'll struggle with."

If GAC wins a title this season, it will come in extremely different fashion than its 2007 championship. The Spartans were at home throughout that postseason, but this season has been unlike any other.

They have faced road games at Savannah Christian, Thomasville and now Westminster in the final three rounds.

"Before this year, the only overnight (playoff) trip we've taken was 2004 to Aquinas," Jacquet said. "We've had a lot of playoff games and I'd say probably 80 percent of them have been at home over the years.

"But the trips have actually been a lot of fun this year. We've enjoyed the trips together. We got to see the girls team play in Savannah. It's been fun staying in hotels and eating good food. We're glad to be back in Atlanta for this one, but we've enjoyed it."

SideBar: STATE SOCCER

What: Class AA/A finals

Who: Greater Atlanta Christian at Westminster

When: Today, 8 p.m.