By Brian Paglia
Now is the time, Dutchtown boys soccer coach Justin Smith said, for change.
Just as Smith has spent most of his time since Friday gaining as much information about the Bulldogs' first round opponent (Harris County) in the state tournament as he could, relentlessly emailing coaches familiar with the Tigers, he knows Harris County did the same.
"I know that people know who to look for, what it is we do with the ball or what we've done to this point with the ball," Smith said. "I'm sure Harris County has researched into that, so we're going to change that up and show them something different."
Now is not the time, Union Grove boys soccer coach Mark Matthews said, for change.
Matthews got three scouting reports on the Wolverines first round opponent, third-seed Savannah Arts (8-8).
One of his players who once played in the Savannah area also has added insight on the Panthers roster. So he's spent practice time
"I know every coach does it differently, but I'm one to usually stick with what we've got," Matthews said.
"We may spend time emphasize some guys to mark, but that's about as much as we do."
The six boys soccer teams that begin the Class AAAAA and AAAA tournaments today spent practices leading up to the first round in different ways, but each made sure to get their players ample chance to rest.
That began for Dutchtown in its season finale against Grayson on Friday.
The Bulldogs came into the game with a chance to be the only remaining undefeated team in Class AAAA, but Smith held out senior Zach Silva to rest his injured ankle.
For Union Grove, that began last Wednesday. Matthews gave his team the day off after two intense games against Perry and Heritage to end the regular season.
"It's kind of a balancing act," Matthews said. "You don't want to have your players burned out. We're used to playing three games a week. ... I'm just trying to get them mentally ready. At this point, it's all about mental preparation."
Dutchtown secured one of the eight No. 1 seeds in the tournament, which comes with a critical advantage through the first two rounds -- home field. Second-seeds Union Grove and Forest Park also host first round games, but most would likely travel in the second round.
For a sport like soccer -- 80 minutes of running -- the time spent on a bus can be detrimental.
Last season, Dutchtown had to travel 190 miles to Statesboro for its second round game.
It was rusty in the first half from the ride and lost 6-3. Season over.
"That was not a very pleasureable experience," Smith said. "When we came off the bus and took the field, we looked bad.
The first half we were just not very good. ... We just never got our feet under us."
For high school sports in general, hosting playoff games avoids the logistics and costs incurred by traveling.
Had Union Grove lost to Luella on April 16, the Wolverines would be traveling to Windsor Forest in Savannah, a four-hour bus ride.
"Home makes a ton of difference," Matthews said.
"The difference would be driving to Savannah and wondering: 'What's too early to leave? Do you spend the night?' It's nice to be at home."