Photo: David McGregor Parkview's Katie Hickman pokes the ball past South Forsyth's Blakely McDonald during the Panthers 2-1 victory over the Eagles in the semifinals on Tuesday.
When Parkview and Harrison's girls soccer teams scheduled each other for a regular season matchup this spring, the idea for each coach was to use that game as a test for their preparedness for the stretch drive of their respective region schedules, as well as the state playoffs.
Considering the Panthers and Hoyas are set to square off against each other in the Class AAAAAA state championship game today at 5 p.m. at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on the campus of Kennesaw State, both teams have passed the previous test.
"You play good teams (like Harrison) to see your weaknesses and see what you need to work on," Parkview coach Judson Hamby said. "Going forward from that game, I think we've played our best soccer of the year. So obviously, I think that game probably helped us."
Indeed, the Panthers (19-3) have played extremely well since a 2-1 loss on penalty kicks to the Hoyas (19-1) at the Big Orange Jungle back on April 13.
They've won the next seven games by a combined score of 30-2, with the biggest challenge being a 2-1 win over South Forsyth in the state semifinals this past Tuesday.
However, Harrison has been on a similar roll since the win at Parkview, beating its next six opponents by a combined score of 33-1.
And coach Steve Riccard hopes to continue that momentum, though he expects to get the very best from the Panthers.
"You never know if (playing a team earlier in the season) is good or bad," Riccard said. "But the last two times we've played them, we've gone to PKs, and I don't expect anything different this time."
Both teams appear to be evenly matched.
Both feature outstanding goalkeeping, with the Panthers led by junior Mariah Garner, who has posted 14 shutouts this season, while the Hoyas boast junior Allison Leone.
Both also feature very talented youngsters in freshman Emma Carlson (team-best 26 goals) and sophomore Kristin Telford (11 G, 11 A) for Parkview and freshmen Lizzie Sieracki and Treva Aycock for Harrison, while the Hoyas also turn to seasoned veterans like junior Savannah Vanderback and senior captain Monica Hererra. And both coaches agree today's game will likely come down to which teams can best play to their strengths.
"If we can control the tempo and use our technical ability and speed, maybe we can nullify some of the things that concerns me about (Parkview)," Riccard said. "We played a really good second half (in the first meeting with Parkview) and had some players step up and proved themselves to me."
Meanwhile, Hamby has a more specific area in mind when looking at what his team needs to do to win.
"I think the key is who's going to win the midfield, because both teams have a very good and very young midfield," Hamby said. "Both teams know each other pretty well, and I think it's going to be a very disciplined game. I think it will come down to the little things that both teams try to do that are critical."