The recent cold spell has made the area weather feel like it’s mid autumn, when the conditions are referred to as “football weather.” That’s exactly what it will be this week, as that other football – better known as soccer – will encounter muddy and possibly cool conditions to mark the start of the postseason for several area high school teams.
As long as the weather permits, the playoffs will begin for a pair of Aiken area girls’ soccer teams today, with four boys’ squads scheduled to make their 2013 playoff debuts on Tuesday. Highlighting today’s slate is a contest between the South Aiken High School girls and their opponents from Irmo.
The Thoroughbreds had a terrific regular season, posting a 17-2-1 record and tying for the Region 5-AAAA title. That success was particularly impressive considering South Aiken lost some major contributors from last year’s 18-3-1 squad to graduation.
But the T-Breds never missed a step thanks in large part to a balanced team effort that saw numerous players chipping in key plays throughout the regular season. South Aiken has been led by Jessica Schifer, who was a force as a freshman in 2012 and has been even better this season. She’s a legitimate scoring threat any time she has possession of the ball on the opponents side of the field, and is even more dangerous because of several capable teammates playing along side of her. That group includes Sabrina Giancroche, Macey Bosley and Alaina Gay among others – all of whom are veterans of the South Aiken program and have experience competing in high-level games.
Tonight at 6:30, they’ll play host to a dangerous opponent in Irmo. The Yellow Jackets are a perennial power but have only posted a 10-9 record this season, that doesn’t include an 8-0 loss to South Aiken in an exhibition at the start of the 2013 campaign. But Irmo always has good depth and great tradition and comes into the postseason playing its best soccer of the season, having won its past five games in a row.
The winner of this contest will return to action on Wednesday against the team that emerges from the contest between Ashley Ridge and South Florence. Should Ashley Ridge – the top seed in this portion of the bracket – prevail, it would mean a second-round game on the road for South Aiken, which tied Lexington for the region title, but was the No. 2 seed because of a tiebreaker.
The other area girls’ team in action tonight is North Augusta. The Yellow Jackets (8-9) finished fourth in Region 5-AAAA and open the postseason on the road at West Florence. Although North Augusta will have its work cut out going against a No. 1 seed on the road, it can take heart in the fact that it played in one of the toughest regions in the state and West Florence (13-7) struggled against its non-region rivals, going 5-7.
When the boys open play on Tuesday, four Aiken-area teams will start the postseason at home. Among them is South Aiken, fresh off clinching the Region 5-AAAA championship.
The T-Breds posted a 19-2 record in the regular season and are one of the hottest teams in South Carolina, having won their past 10 games.
During that stretch, South Aiken also avenged one of its losses with a dramatic 2-1 win over crosstown rival Aiken High. That win not only clinched the region crown, but will allow the T-Breds to play at home almost every game in the playoffs.
“We could have three or four games that we don’t have to get on a bus,” said South Aiken head coach Paul Waters, who’s team will play host to Richland Northeast (12-7) on Tuesday. Waters has confidence in his veteran lineup that includes elite scorers Daniel Zaremba and Skyler Lightbody and a stingy defense led by all-star goalie Michael Ulmer. “They come to work. The lights go on and they put on that South Aiken jersey and it means something to them.”
A T-Breds’ win on Tuesday will mean a Thursday game at the Stomping Grounds against the winner of the contest between Stratford and Summerville. South Aiken would continue to play at home throughout the playoffs, with the possible exception of the Lower State semifinals, and that’s only if South Florence advances that far. Should South Aiken make it to the Lower State championship game, that would be played at home regardless of opponent.
Its rival Aiken High doesn’t have as favorable of a schedule. The Hornets will play host to Spring Valley (10-9) on Tuesday but would likely hit the road for the second round of the playoffs if they win and Fort Dorchester gets and expected victory over Carolina Forest.
Should Aiken win its first two postseason games, the possibility of returning to Hagood Stadium remains, but isn’t likely with perennial power Wando looming on its side of the draw. While speculating on potential Lower State semifinal locations might be looking too far down the road, it’s not out of question for a Hornets squad that seems built for playoff success.
They’re a tremendous defensive team that hasn’t surrendered more than two goals in a single game in more than a month of action. Not surprisingly, Aiken (13-6) has played its best soccer of the season during that stretch with goalie Bradley Cardona leading the way, including a shutout of South Aiken on March 28. Prior to the regular-season ending loss to the T-Breds, the Hornets hadn’t lost in 10 consecutive games, going 9-0-1 during that stretch.
While Aiken has distinguished itself with defense, the other area team playing its postseason opener at home on Tuesday earned that distinction because of its ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Silver Bluff (11-2) is a high-scoring team, averaging close to four goals per game this season. The Region 5-AA champions will open the playoffs at The Bluff with a game against Woodland.
The Bulldogs have scored 27 goals in their past six games – all victories. That included a win over Barnwell that avenged one of its two losses. The other came when it played out of Class AA against Aiken.
Silver Bluff is led by potent scorers Pedro and Favian Zambrano among others and a win over Woodland (5-10) will allow it to play host on Thursday to the team that triumphs in the matchup between Barnwell and Lake City. If Barnwell is the opponent, that would set up a tie-breaking third contest between it and the Bulldogs this season.
Another Aiken-area boys’ team in the postseason, but it doesn’t open its playoff schedule until Thursday. That’s because Ridge Spring-Monetta earned a bye into the second round, where it will play host to Charleston Charter.
In just its second season as a varsity soccer program, RS-M continues to impress with how quickly it’s playing so well. The Trojans went 7-4 this season and a win on Thursday would mean a trip to the Lower State semifinals. Should they get to that point, the Trojans will face either Blackville-Hilda – the No. 1 seed in the Lower State – or its opponent on Thursday.
That will be determined by the winner of the game between Denmark-Olar (0-5) and Fox Creek (2-9), the other area boys’ team to qualify for the postseason. RS-M swept Fox Creek in two games in the regular season, beat Denmark-Olar 4-1, but came up short in two contests against Blackville-Hilda – losing 2-1 and 3-0.
The good news for the Predators is that its wins have come in its past two games, heading into the playoffs on a roll. Continuing it is what all of these teams are trying to do.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
AT A GLANCE
Monday’s Girls’ Games
• South Aiken vs. Irmo
• North Augusta at West Florence
Tuesday’s Boys’ Games
• South Aiken vs. Richland Northeast
• Aiken vs. Spring Valley
• Silver Bluff vs. Woodland
• Fox Creek vs. Denmark-Olar
Thursday’s Boys’ Games
• Ridge Spring-Monetta vs. Charleston Charter