Greater Atlanta Christian's biggest stumbling block is all that stands between the Spartans and their first girls soccer state championship.
The Class AA powerhouse has a strong resume of deep playoff runs, but no state title after several near-misses in recent seasons. The latest came in last year's state finals with a 1-0 loss to Region 6-AA rival Blessed Trinity, which hosts the Spartans in tonight's AA state championship match.
Top-ranked Blessed Trinity (15-3-2) is a perfect 3-0 against No. 2 GAC (17-2-1) the past two seasons, though all three games were thrillers. The Titans won 2-1 in the 2010 regular season on penalty kicks prior to last year's title match, then kept their success against the Spartans going this season with a 3-2 win on PKs back on March 23.
"It's very motivating (to play Blessed Trinity)," GAC girls coach Troy Bendickson said. "The state championship game is motivating itself. You shouldn't have to go beyond that. But it always adds something when you're playing a team that's slipped by you the last few times."
In the teams' latest meeting, GAC got behind 1-0 early but recovered to take a 2-1 lead it held until Blessed Trinity got the equalizer with slightly more than four minutes left before eventually winning on PKs.
Last year's state championship game loss was even more painful for the Spartans, who lost 1-0 on a PK in the waning seconds.
"(The games with Blessed Trinity) are notoriously tight," said Bendickson, in his 10th year as the Spartans' coach.
GAC is playing some of its best soccer late this season, winning its last six matches by a combined score of 45-0. That includes blowouts of No. 3 Buford (8-0 in Wednesday's semifinals), No. 9 Lovett (7-0) and No. 4 Westminster (5-0).
GAC's first championship would be very satisfying, especially for the five GAC senior captains --Kelsey Fervier, Rachel Pew, Ellie Huizenga, Ashley Williams and Kailey Bryan --who have been so close to titles their entire career, losing to Walker in the state semifinals in 2009 and 2010 prior to last year's title-game loss to Blessed Trinity.
Their leadership has been critical for a program that graduated eight seniors, six of them starters, off last year's state runner-up squad.
"It would be great to win for these seniors," Bendickson said. "The spirit of this year's senior group is great. It's the most unifying spirit we've had."