Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Heather Ferrari (21) clears the ball from Union County's Camryn Carter (9) during a girls soccer state playoff game played at GAC on Tuesday.
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As the state girls soccer playoffs moves into the semifinal round Tuesday night, there is somewhat of an air of familiarity among the five Gwinnett County teams still alive in four different classifications.
Of those teams, only No. 3 state-ranked Parkview (18-3) faces a total unknown when the Panthers welcome 10th-ranked South Forsyth (16-5) to the Big Orange Jungle for a 7 p.m. match.
As far as the other local teams, the familiarity ranges from the abstract — as in Buford's 5:30 p.m. kickoff with St. Pius X in Class AAA, marking the sixth different sport the No. 2 Wolves (19-0) and the third-ranked Golden Lions (17-1-3) have squared off in during postseason play this school year — to the more tangible.
For instance, No. 9 Brookwood (16-4) will be getting a rematch of sorts with top-ranked Harrison (18-1) when they face-off at 7 p.m. at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium in Kennesaw.
The Broncos defeated the Hoyas 2-0 in a preseason scrimmage back on Feb. 5 at Brookwood Community Stadium, though the stakes will obviously be higher Tuesday.
As for the two remaining Gwinnett teams, you can't get any more familiar than top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian (18-1) and No. 8 Wesleyan (6-12-1), who meet in a Class AA semifinal at 5:30 p.m. at GAC.
The two county and Region 6-AA rivals — two of the four region teams monopolizing the Class AA semifinals — will collide for the third time this season Tuesday.
And as both Spartans coach Troy Bendickson and Wolves coach Lacey Gilbert point out, there are advantages and disadvantages to playing that familiar an opponent in such a postseason situation, particularly in the former's case, with GAC having swept the regular season series with Wesleyan by a combined score of 11-0.
"If you talk to any coach, they'll tell you they're less comfortable with having to play a team for a third time (in a single season)," said Bendickson, whose Spartans have allowed just two goals in their last 11 games, and have outscored opponents 29-0 in three playoff games. "But I'm comfortable with the way our team plays. I still think it's hard to beat a team three times in one season, and we've spoken (to the team) about that.
"(The rivalry with Wesleyan) always helps. With any game, the crowd is into it, and being so close and familiar to each other, it's big. … Nothing we're going to do will surprise them. So, we have to be aware of (Wesleyan taking) a defensive mentality, let the ball do the work and make them run. We know it will be difficult to get in behind them."
Like Bendickson, Gilbert will also mention to her Wolves about how hard it is for one team to beat another three times in a season.
But she says her larger emphasis will be on staying with what has worked so well in delivering three postseason wins after struggling through a brutal regular season schedule.
Still, Gilbert also admits the rivalry with GAC will add a little extra incentive for her players.
"We know exactly what we're getting into," said Gilbert, whose Wolves will be making their first state semifinals appearance since 2009. "And our girls always get up for (GAC). It's also a little different after our last three state games in which we didn't have any common opponents with.
"We didn't have our whole team healthy until about 15 games into the season. So, that's helped us. And we purposely played a tough (non-region) schedule, though I didn't know it was going to be that tough. But when we got to the playoffs, I told the girls to just take it as a whole new season."