The Battle of the Bubble belongs to McIntosh. The Chiefs swept the soccer showdown Thursday night, the girls winning 4-1 and the boys winning 4-0.
McIntosh and Starr’s Mill always bring out the best in each other on the pitch, and, like most years, the match carried heavy region implications. For the girls it’s another extremely close race with the Chiefs and Panthers battling Northgate for first place. Look no further than the AJC’s AAAAA rankings to see what a dominant region it is. The Chiefs are number one, the Vikings are number three, and the Panthers are fourth. McIntosh now has a win over Starr’s Mill, but they lost to Northgate 3-2. Starr’s Mill beat Northgate 1-0. The Lady Chiefs not only needed this win, but they needed the fourth goal to move themselves into second in the region on goal differential.
“We challenged the team on what they needed to do, not just to win, but the score we needed. They rose to the challenge,” said coach Marcia Clark. “I’m proud of the way they fought all night long. I couldn’t be prouder right now.”
Starr’s Mill nearly struck the first blow in the match. Lauren Yoss’s first good look missed just high, then McIntosh’s keeper, Hannah Graham, made a diving save to turn another Panther shot away.
Midway through the first half the Chiefs broke through as Jackie Gray found the back of the net for the lead.
With nine minutes left in the half, Starr’s Mill knotted the game up, but the tie wouldn’t stand long. Riley Clark’s shot would be deflected and rattle around the box before Kayla Feigenbaum redirected it into the net for a Panther goal. Less than a minute later the Chiefs responded with a goal by freshman Kimmy Edgeworth.
The margin would remain one goal until deep in the second half. Defender Abby Ott stepped up and provided the difference the team needed, scoring twice to get her team back to second in the region. Her second tally came with two minutes to play, heading a Emily Perez free kick for a 4-1 win.
On paper, the boys game should’ve belonged to the Panthers. They came into the game ranked number five in AAAAA while the Chiefs aren’t in the top ten. The Chiefs are a young team still striving to get back to the level of excellence they’re used to. It looks like they’ve arrived. They jumped in front early and never let up in a dominating 4-0 win. The victory also puts McIntosh in first place in the region.
“We’ve been working really hard to get to a certain place and it clicked tonight. All the things we’ve been working on the boys did every bit of it tonight 100 percent,” said coach Bunky Colvin. “I think we proved that, even though we’re young, we have the ability to be good. We just have to carry it on.”
McIntosh also realizes the importance of beating such a good team.
“Starr’s Mill is a very good team and they’ve had a very good year. They showed a lot of character and pride,” said Colvin. “I give them credit. It was one of those night where we were on.”
It was a senior-led night, as the small core of veterans made a big impact.
“Our seniors stepped up. We only had three on the field, but they stepped up big,” said Colvin. “That was probably the best game I’ve ever seen Conner Halmi play and Christian Slepicka has been a game changer for us. He scored two amazing goals and shifted all the pressure.”
They also got an important performance from a freshman in keeper Noah Slepicka, who pitched a shutout while making several impressive saves.
“As a freshman, this is an intimidating situation, but he didn’t look like a freshman,” said Colvin. “Starr’s Mill has some big boys and you’d see the ball go in there and then you’d see an orange hand come up and collect it. He stood up big.”
McIntosh wasted no time getting on the board. Their incredible energy sparked them to two goals in the first ten minutes and three in the first twenty.
Goal one came under six minutes into the game as Christian Slepicka received a pass perfectly in stride and drilled it home. Three minutes later it was Dylan Keysar on the attack.
After Starr’s Mill’s Anthony Hoelle saw his shot ricochet off the crossbar, the Chiefs struck again. With nearly 23 minutes still to play in the opening half, Slepicka buried a running header in the goal for a 3-0 advantage.
The Chiefs added a bit of insurance in the second half when Conner Halmi finished off a give-and-go in the box, beating the keeper for the final blow in the 4-0 win.
The Chiefs hope this is just the start for another playoff run.
“I think it’s all coming together at the right time,” said Colvin. “There’s a lot of good players on this varsity team and they haven’t gotten the respect they deserve. Tonight, they earned that respect.”
(Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)
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