BROOKLET — With a thrilling 4-3 victory over Jackson High in the first round of the state playoffs, the Lady Yellow Jackets of Southeast Bulloch (12-6-1) are one step closer to advancing to the “Elite Eight” round.
Standing in the team’s way is Oconee County (10-4-3), a team fresh off a Final Four trip in last year’s state playoffs.
SEB head coach Kristen Barnhill said her team doesn’t mind playing the underdog role. A victory over a top tier team like Oconee County is a win that could put Southeast Bulloch on the map, she said.
“Those teams up in Athens and up in Atlanta don’t really take teams from Southeast Georgia seriously,” Barnhill said. “So we want to come out with a chip on our shoulder and prove that we belong here.”
In recent years the Lady Jackets have made a case that they are a team that belongs in the state playoffs. SEB girls soccer has entered the playoffs for five straight years and have had back-to-back sweet 16 appearances in the last two years.
“I feel like we don’t get the respect we deserve,” Barnhill said. “We really want to get to the Elite Eight and show that we can compete with anybody.”
Barnhill has used a different approach to prepare her players for the underdog role they have been given. Monday morning before the big game, Coach Barnhill sent her players a video from the classic underdog movie Rocky in order to get the team motivated.
“It’s fine with me (being the underdog). That just means we’ll work harder than you and compete harder than you and we’ll see who comes out on top,” Barnhill said. “I think they (Oconee County) could underestimate us a lot and that could be an advantage for us so we’re going to take it to them.”
The Jackets have been coming on strong towards the end of the season. SEB has won four of its last five games of the season.
Senior Marli King said defeating Oconee County would be a step in the right direction to crossing off some of the pre-season goals the team set. According to Barnhill, SEB’s girls have never advanced to the Elite Eight.
“We just want to do it for coach Barnhill. She expects a lot from us, and we expect a lot from ourselves,” King said. “We set goals at the beginning of the season and one of our goals was to make it to the elite eight.”
During Monday's practice, the Lady Yellow Jackets worked on one-on-one drills, situation drills and penalty kicks. Barnhill said the team has put more of an emphasis this season on penalty kicks and it seemed to pay off.
Tied 3-3 against Jackson High School in the opening round, the Lady Yellow Jackets won 3-0 in penalty kicks. SEB hit all three penalty shots while Jackson missed two and goalie Madison Fields saved the third.
“We’ve really improved and it’s been very rewarding. We’ve worked hard all season and it’s helped us come to where we are,” said Marissa Mobley, who scored one of the three goals in the penalty-kick win over Jackson. “We are a family and this team is connected. We understand each other and we know each other. We work well together.”
Senior co-captain Ashley Owusu also scored a goal in the penalty-kick win over Jackson. She noted the team chemistry this year is at an all-time high.
“It was such a great feeling to know we were achieving goals. It was a great team effort. This team has been more family-oriented than any other team I’ve been a part of. It’s just great and I love this team,” Owusu said.
Today’s game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Oconee High School. The winner will take on either Adairsville or Blessed Trinity in the state quarterfinals.
Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.