Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Greater Atlanta Christian Rachel Garcia (2) dives for the ball against Buford Brooke Horist (18) during girls soccer action in the Class AA semifinals game at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross on Wednesday. Garcia contributed to the GAC 8-0 victory over Buford with three goals and one assist.
NORCROSS -- After scoring two late goals to put Buford away in their first meeting, GAC's girls made sure that the Wolves didn't hang around in the encore.
"They hung around the last game," said GAC head coach Troy Bendickson. "We didn't want them to hang around this time."
The Spartans scored three goals in the first 20 minutes on their way to a 8-0 win and a return trip to the Class AA girls state soccer championship game Saturday. The Spartans will travel to Blessed Trinity in a rematch of last year's state title loss to the Titans on GAC's first trip to the championship game. The Titans also beat GAC 3-2 earlier this season.
"We preach one game at a time every year," Bendickson said. "But they know what that means; what game we are talking about. Now we can talk about it freely."
It took a Buford challenge for the Spartans' attack to awaken.
Buford's Lindsey White knocked the ball through the middle of the GAC defense, finding Ceely Coker, who snuck behind GAC keeper Elizabeth White. But Ashley Williams turned Coker away and the Spartans' attack turned upfield.
Less than a minute later, off the first corner of the game by Taylor Wagnon, GAC's Rachael Garcia scored her first goal. Ellie Huizenga and Buford goalie Caitlin Hollis collided on the kick, knocking the ball out to Garcia, who pounded it in the back of the net for a 1-0 Spartans lead in the 13th minute of the game.
"They were able to put a little pressure on us in the first half, and we turned it around," Bendickson said.
And that got the Spartans, and Garcia started.
Hannah Huizenga scored three minutes later on another corner kick and Dani Marcano finished a beautiful attack sparked by Garcia for the third goal. Garcia took the ball near midfield and dribbled through the Buford defense before tapping the ball into Hannah Huizenga setting up the goal.
Garcia's next shot went off the right post, one of five GAC shots to hit the goal frame Wednesday, and her next two sailed over.
But in the 21st minute she finally found the net again, this time on a crossing shot from the left side. She completed the hat trick eight minutes later off a direct kick rebound passed out to her from Wagnon.
"Buford played well," said Garcia, who was defended by one Buford player much of the game. "It took me a while (to get into the game. My teammates) were making good runs."
Garcia missed the last game with Buford after suffering a early-season concussion.
"Buford is a big rival with GAC," Garcia said, noting that it stems from football and basketball. "It's definitely still a rivalry. It's fun to play."
But with the lopsided win and the memory of last year still stinging, all thoughts turned to the pending state championship game.
"It was a tough loss for our whole team," Garcia said. "We are excited to be back there this year.
"I think we can definitely win it. I am excited."
"What we told them tonight was to earn it," Bendickson said. "And that is what they did. They earned it."