Buford girls ride 'game changers' to perfect season

It's not perfect yet, but the regular season sure was a good start.

With a resounding 10-0 win over Fanin County, Buford's girls soccer team finished the regular season undefeated 17-0. The game before, the Wolves claimed the Region 7-AAA title with a 2-1 win at Dawson County.

But for a team still smarting from getting "ripped apart" by GAC in the Class AA Final Four a season ago, the zero losses are more a nice side note, a gift bag at the Oscars, to the big crown still ahead.

"We have the region championship, check that off the list, and now it's, 'All right, let's focus on the next goal,'" said Buford head coach Crystal Fowler. "(The goal) has been just get past the Final Four. GAC really ripped us apart in the Final Four (last year). That left a bad taste in our mouth."

Already talented, Buford added a trio of freshmen to this year's varsity roster, giving the Wolves a final shot of skill. Elexa Bahr, Isabella Grest and Ambria Shutts all start for the Wolves and entered the school with sterling reputations as players, but it was the first scrimmage when Fowler realized the potential.

"I was really excited when I was able to see them in competition," she said, noting the trio's shocking speed. "It was really fun."

"They were the game-changers. Last year, we had a good team, but we weren't quite there. These freshmen pushed us over a little bit more."

Bahr and junior Ceely Coker have each scored more than 20 goals this season, a average of more than one a match.

"They have that intangible heart, never-quit attitude," Fowler said. "When it comes to games, those two have been crucial for our team remaining undefeated."

The defense, allowing less than half a goal a game is led by sophomore Brooke Horist and junior Jessi Vaverka.

And then there's senior Ann Schmidt, headed to UAB next season. Schmidt played on the junior varsity team as an eighth grader, watching the rise of the program over the past five seasons.

"She's been through all the battles and has been a leader wanting to get to the state championship," Fowler said. "She is our lead motivator. She really wants to get that state championship her senior season."

That quest begins Thursday with a home match against Decatur. The Wolves beat the Bulldogs 3-2 in overtime early in the season. Decatur entered Class AAA with Buford and the two teams were in the same region a season ago.

"We are looking for a tough match," said Fowler, who said her team's focus shifted to the big title after winning the region two matches ago. "There was a change of attitude, they were like, 'All right, now our season starts.'"