From the start of this season when the Norcross girls soccer team gathered in its group huddles they always ended the same way.
Most teams pile hands and end the meetings with a small cheer, typically a unifying voice of “team” or something moment specific like “defense” or “finish.” A one-word rallying cry. Norcross’ unified vision this season was “playoffs.”
The last time the Blue Devils girls team reached the postseason was 2007 and after three years of near-misses a senior-heavy team aimed for a return to glory.
“From the very beginning that’s been our goal,” head coach Kristina Marchman said. “That’s been the central theme this year, to make it to the playoffs and they did it. That’s been awesome. They wanted to stop being close, they wanted to make it.”
How they made it impressed more.
Norcross finished its season with 1-0 penalty kick wins over Peachtree Ridge and Duluth. The loss was the only Region 7-AAAAAA loss for Peachtree Ridge and Duluth slipped to No. 3 in the region, pushing Norcross to the No. 2 seed and a home date with Milton today.
“We are asking them to reach inside themselves a little bit more to keep going on this goal,” Marchman said.
If any game illustrates the fortitude of Norcross it was its final win against Duluth. Before the game began, the season’s goal had been passed; they were already the No. 4 seed and were coming off a win over the region champions Lions. Instead of satisfaction, Norcross kept charging for its third win in its last three games and another home game.
“That was the most exciting game of the year,” Marchman said. “I have never seen the girls that excited after a game. They were excited. They battled through tired legs and tired minds.”
All season was a battle for Norcross. They started the year with tough 4-1 losses to Grayson and Brookwood, both state ranked, and were 4-4 after opening Region 7-AAAAAA play with a loss to Mill Creek. But from there, they won seven of their last nine, including four shutouts with two separate goalies.
Senior starter Kennedy White broke her hand and missed a portion of the middle of the season, but classmate Leanne Francis entered and the defense didn’t slip. Along with seniors in goal, Jordan Shapiro and Meghan Revell help lock down the back of the Blue Devils line at center-back.
“They’ve been such tight games. We focused a lot on defense and on keeping our composure back there,” Marchman said. “Offensively, that is where our composure starts from (on defense).”
With a defense allowing less than one goal a game, the offense played with more freedom, leading to Maddie Stephen’s 16 goals and region forward of the year honors and Kaitlin Mayer scored three goals to go with an unselfish 12 assists.
With seven of their eight seniors also starters, Marchman sees tipping point from the recent near-misses to reaching the playoffs and perhaps beyond in their experience.
“Confidence has been huge for us and I think our maturity has given us that confidence,” Marchman said. “As your season goes on they get pretty tired. If you can remain confident in your abilities it helps regardless.”
And coming off two narrow wins over two teams ranked above the No. 10 Blue Devils with a combined 28-6 record the confidence only swelled.
“I really think that now we are peaking,” Marchman said. “Now, we are at our best.”