When the buzzer echoed through Mercer University’s stadium on Friday, May 12, the McIntosh girls’ soccer team sprinted from the sidelines and formed a pile on the turf. The feeling of winning a state championship was special, emotional and anything but new.
Completing a season with a state title is something the McIntosh Lady Chiefs have been accustomed to ever since the Lady Chiefs first accomplished the task in 1992. Despite the school only being open since 1981, McIntosh’s girls’ soccer team has established itself as a perennial soccer powerhouse, winning 11 state championships in a 25-year span, a 44 percent success rate through the last quarter-century.
I caught up with nine players from the first state championship team—Clare Chapman, Kara Kittle, Ginger Harrelson, Natalie Huber, Shannon Jones, Beth Linteris, Nikki Potterbaum, Jennifer Rawlings, and Sandy Van Velzor—to recall the first championship season that sparked a legacy.
While McIntosh now sets its expectations on national championships, the 1992 team was, by many measures, an underdog. Forced to compete against both public and private schools, the young squad representing a school a decade old was anything but a championship favorite.
*Maiden name in parentheses
Nikki (Potterbaum) Rutledge, freshman, left mid, #15: The thing I remember most that year is how well all of us got along—we clicked from the get-go! The team was special, because even though I was a freshman just coming in, everyone accepted everyone—no matter what grade you were in.
Jennifer Rawlings, sophomore, center mid, #17: I think we had one senior, maybe two.
Shannon (Jones) Bednarowski, sophomore, defender and forward: Almost all of us played for club soccer teams year round.
Natalie (Huber) Clark, sophomore, center forward, #11: The younger players, including myself, had played together for years during club season and ODP (Olympic Development Program). We were very comfortable with each other and had some of the best players in the state.
Rawlings: My freshman class was a pretty big class. When we came in there were probably seven or eight of us that made varsity.
Sandra (Van Velzor) Faircloth, freshman, defense, and midfield, #12: We had been playing together for years and played against several of the opposing players who also played on club teams. So while we still had to fine tune our skills as a team, it wasn’t like starting from scratch, which I think helped a lot.
Clare Chapman, junior, goalkeeper: Most of the sophomore and freshman girls played competitive club ball together throughout the year, and they were the best in the state at that top level.
Ginger (Harrelson) Carr, junior, center mid, #2: I believe that our youth really contributed to the team chemistry. While we had some top players, no one tried to “take over” the team. We all knew we had to rely on each other to get the job done.
Kara (Kittle) Clark, senior, halfback #15: We had a wonderful coach who believed in us and supported us no matter what.
Beth (Linteris) Chapman, junior, left fullback, #18: Such an amazing legacy to be a part of.
The Semifinals, Win Over Marist 2-1
Carr: That was the key game. We saw them as the toughest opponent.
Rawlings: I just remember my parents saying they think we shouldn’t even be here.
Faircloth: It was a tough battle—it felt like a final game, not a semifinal match.
Clare Chapman: I made a save on a direct kick and I had to dive the length of the goal.
Carr: The loss to Fayette County at the end of the regular season was a blessing in disguise. It really made us refocus for the playoffs and reminded us that one loss would derail our season-long goal.
Kara Clark: It was a shock that we beat Marist.
Bednarowski: OK, let’s do this. One more win.
The Championship, Win Over Heritage 3-0
Carr: Since we won the game 3-0, there wasn’t much suspense. The game couldn’t end soon enough for us to start celebrating.
Kara Clark: I was team captain in 1992 and scored the first goal of the championship game.
Natalie Clark: We didn’t want the season to end. I remember us all piling on top of each other, jumping around screaming.
Rutledge: I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my freshman year.
Carr: Coach O’Loughlin got pied in the face, and Jennifer Rawlings scored a header off a corner kick. She and I had been wanting to connect on one all season, so for it to happen in the finals was pretty cool.
Rawlings: We celebrated at Pizza Hut.
Kara Clark: Funny story, my high school boyfriend told me there was no way we could never win state.
Clare Chapman: They had a pep rally the next day for us and they played “We Are Champions” by Queen as we walked in. It was awesome.
Bednarowski: I don’t think at the time we knew the significance. Since it was the first GHSA girls soccer state championship, we didn’t know how big of a deal it was.
Rawlings: To know that we were the first ones, that’s pretty special.
Natalie Clark: It showed that there is a lot of talent on the south side of Atlanta.
Clare Chapman: I was born in Peachtree City and played in the very first recreational league as a small child. I have seen first hand how Fayette County soccer has grown and the level of play continues to increase.
Carr: After our state title I was quoted by a newspaper—that I just found an old scrapbook—saying, “It might put pressure on us (as a school),” but they’ve definitely handled that pressure.
Faircloth: It is amazing to me to see how dominant McIntosh remains in girls’ soccer over the past 25 years.
Natalie Clark: Several players on the original team had daughters win a state championship this year.
Beth Chapman: My daughter won a state championship with her dance team last year. I look back on my high school soccer days and hope in a small way that I was able to pass on a small part of the drive, determination and dedication that I see in her.
Kara Clark: It makes me smile every day thinking about the girls who want to play soccer and try and win state for McIntosh.
Rutledge: I feel like we showed them they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. After 25 years of looking back on that I would say we accomplished our goal.