By Brian Paglia
For five straight seasons, at least one boys or girls soccer team from the Southern Crescent has reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament. Just two years ago, Union Grove's girls team reached the semifinals.
Which suggests a local team among the 14 that qualified for the state tournament that begins next week should make a run, a quest that begins Tuesday, April 27.
But which one?
Well, the talent of a team can be one indication, but several other factors can help teams on the path toward a state championship, factors that are, to some degree, out of a team's hands.
One is the bracket a team is placed in, where a team finds which opponents could be waiting in their path and how formidable (or not) those teams are.
Here's a look at the easiest and hardest paths toward a state title ...
Boys: Union Grove
The Wolverines (14-4) landed in a bracket that sets up nicely for them to make a deep run in the Class AAAAA tournament.
After a favorable first round match-up, the biggest threat for Union Grove is a potential quarterfinals meeting with Dacula, the No. 6 team in the state, an upstart team from Gwinnett county that overtook traditional boys soccer powers Parkview and Brookwood.
Every other bracket contains at least two ranked teams, which would have made the Wolverines' path more formidable.
True, the Lady Bulldogs (9-4) had just one victory over a team (Alcovy) with a winning record. But Dutchtown has postseason pedigree, reaching the second round two of the past four seasons.
To do that again, the Lady Bulldogs have to go through Upson-Lee (8-7), which underwent a rebuilding year after finishing 2009 ranked No. 6 in the state.
Dutchtown is glad it isn't Ola, which is stuck in a bracket with four teams ranked in the top 10.
Boys: Forest Park
Its first round opponent, Upson-Lee, went 13-3, played a tough schedule and has a history against the Panthers. Upson-Lee beat Forest Park two years ago for a region championship.
If the Panthers got out of the first round, they'd encounter Glynn Academy, a 16-1-1 team ranked No. 10 in the state. If they got past Glynn Academy, the next team waiting would be Lakeside-Dekalb, which is ranked fourth in Class AAAA.
Girls: Union Grove
Two years ago, the Lady Wolverines advanced to the semifinals of the Class AAAAA tournament only to lose to juggernaut Parkview, 8-0.
The Lady Panthers should be waiting for Union Grove again, this time in the quarterfinals. Parkview is ranked No. 2 in the state and has a 15-1-1 record. Revenge will be hard to come by.