BROOKLET — At the beginning of the soccer season, there were many questions for the Southeast Bulloch boys soccer team.
Now, just one remains.
How far can they go?
The Yellow Jackets travel to Berrien today at 5 p.m. in the first round of the GHSA Class AA state playoffs and it’s winner-take-all from here on out as one team will advance toward a state title while another will be done for the season.
SEB entered the season as a young team without a wealth of experience — just two seniors start — but consistently improved throughout the season as it went toe-to-toe with the best of Region 3-AA and made it out of the regular season with a No. 3 seed in the state tournament.
One of the people most pleasantly surprised — and most influential in the Jackets’ turnaround — is first year coach Bob Massee.
“When we first got together, I was a little scared when I saw how far we had to go to become a good team,” said Massee. “Now that I look back, this has been the most fun I’ve ever had coaching. To see this team come together and grow has been an awesome experience.”
As they improved, the Jackets were a model of consistency in region play. SEB notched some key early wins to get a leg up on the playoff chase and even gave Dublin — which has been ranked near the top of Class AA all season — a scare in their meeting two weeks ago.
Simply making the playoffs marks a big step forward for the Jackets, but there won’t be any sense of satisfaction among the players as the same mantra has been drilled into the Jackets all season.
“Don’t settle,” said Massee. “We’ve been saying it at every practice and after every game. Looking at how hard our guys have fought in every game — win or lose — I think that everyone has bought into it.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome will be the travel.
The Jackets will check out of school early and have a four-hour bus trip to look forward to before taking the field.
For most of SEB’s players, today will be one of the longest road trips of their careers.
“It’s definitely something to think about,” said Massee. “Going that far away from home is definitely a chore. The plan is to get there pretty early and have some time to prepare. We’ll watch our girls play, and hopefully they’ll give us a win and some momentum to carry into our game.”
SEB girls face Berrien in playoffs
The Lady Jackets will kick off the SEB soccer state playoff fun today as they also take on Berrien at 3 p.m.
SEB’s girls find themselves in the exact same position as their schoolmates, notching the No. 3 seed out of Region 3-AA and advancing to play No. 2 seed Berrien.
For much of the season, the Jackets were on the fringe of the state playoff picture, but a strong final two weeks propelled them into the postseason.
Things began with a win over longtime rival Screven County.
The Lady Gamecocks easily defeated SEB in their first matchup of the season, but the Jackets got a huge momentum boost and knocked Screven out of the region title hunt with a road win three weeks ago.
With a state playoff birth theirs for the taking, the Jackets turned in their best performance of the year in their biggest moment, upsetting region champion Dublin two weeks ago in Brooklet.
In the win, SEB erased an early deficit to force penalty kicks and then prevailed, showing that they can match up with any level of competition.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.