By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — “Healthy and ready to go” — that’s a phrase neither South Effingham boys coach DaKota Paradice nor Effingham County girls coach Wade Wright have been able to say very much this soccer season.
But the coaches say their Mustangs and Rebels are entering their respective Class AAAAAA state soccer tournaments just about as injury-free as the teams have been all season.
The SEHS boys, the No. 3 seed from Region 2, travel to Conyers to play Heritage in a first-round match on Friday. As of Sunday, the time hasn’t been determined.
The ECHS girls, a No. 4 seed, visit Grovetown on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“The whole season has been about who’s available,” said Wright, who finished the regular season with just 11 players for a match with Richmond Hill.
Wright said ECHS (8-6) will have at least three girls back from injuries — Ardyn Montgomery, Lydia Beech and Taylor Austin — and possibly two more, Ashton Smith and Kinsey Stone.
“The girls will look over to the bench and think “woo hoo, there’s a sub,” ” Wright said. “Having extra players is making our practices better.”
South (12-6) had nine players out in a March 26 match against Effingham County. But slowly the Mustangs have overcome bumps and bruises and entered state with a five-game winning streak.
“I think (the regular-season finale against) Camden was the first time I could turn in a roster with nobody injured or limited,” said Paradice, who has played stretches without Tyler Quick, Riley Quick, Liam Rickman, Ashton Mealor and CJ Webb.
But junior Gage Harris, who started the season on the junior varsity team, took advantage of extra playing time and has been a key player for SEHS down the stretch.
Harris scored the Mustangs’ first goal in a key, late-season win against Brunswick.
Full strength for both ECHS and SEHS comes at a good time because they’ll be tested by formidable foes. The Grovetown girls (11-3-2) won Region 3 with a staunch defense that allowed only three goals in eight region games.
“They play a 4-3-3 (alignment) and have a couple of really good players we have to be aware of,” Wright said. “They play in a tough region but we do too.”
Heritage (8-5) is also a defensive-minded team and has not allowed more than three goals in a game this season.
“We’ve heard they’re an aggressive team just like the teams in our region,” Paradice said. “My whole thing with my team is which team is going to show up. We’re playing well right now. I guess we’re doing it at the right time.”