Originally created 03/09/06

Area fields packed with soccer talent



It's official. Augusta is a hotbed for two things in the spring. Golf and now boys high school soccer.

Aquinas, Greenbrier and Richmond Academy all began the year as the teams to beat in their respective classifications. Aquinas, Richmond Academy and South Aiken all won state titles last year. Evans made it to the Class AAAA Final Four last spring.

Greenbrier returns every main contributor from a 12-5-3 team last season. The Wolfpack also added junior Will Dunaway, who was Lakeside's top player last year. They began the year ranked as the top team in Class AAAA.

It used to be a contending Augusta-area school needed a bus ride to Atlanta or a tournament like the upcoming Kelme Tournament of Champions in Jekyll Island to gauge its composite strength against a state power.

Now, it's a 20-mile trip. Richmond Academy, for example, will see at least nine quality teams in the first month of its season.

"The Class AAAAA Atlanta schools are still up there because of numbers and the amount of club players in their student bodies to choose from," Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said. "But I felt Augusta was a strong area for soccer when we won our first state title. If you include Aiken in the Augusta area, then this area is as good as any. If Atlanta is the best place for soccer it's only because of sheer size. And if it is, then Augusta would be a close second."

Here's a look at some of the top teams in the area after most have played five games.

RICHMOND ACADEMY: The Musketeers (5-2) have set the benchmark for area success after two consecutive state titles followed the hype of being ranked as the top team in the nation during 2004.

Good talent remains, but Hughes is pretty skeptical.

"I told everyone going into this year I'd never been more concerned about the first month of a season," said Hughes, who turned down the head football coaching job at the school. "We start six freshmen. They're good freshmen but that's a weakness. We're matching 15-year-old boys with 18-year old young men. We're not going to win many of those no matter how talented our freshmen might be."

Hughes still believes his team will again be a state contender. The Musketeers are ranked No. 1 in Class AAA according to www.eurosportscoreboard.com.

GREENBRIER: The Wolfpack (6-0) won two games last week but still dropped to the second spot in this week's state rankings.

"Chris (Hughes) and I joked about what the area just missed," Greenbrier coach Chip Warren said. "Richmond moved up to No. 1 in Class AAA. Aquinas is No. 1 in Class A/AA. If we wouldn't have dropped that would have meant Augusta would have had the No. 1 team in three of the five Georgia classifications."

Warren's team is in his own words "packed with firepower" and expecting very big things.

"Best team we've had here since our 2003 team," Warren said. "We went 17-1 that year and lost in the final eight to eventual state champion Dalton."

The Wolfpack graduate three starters, but the loss is minimal.

"Will Dunaway adds more than enough to what we lost," Warren said.

AQUINAS: The Fighting Irish (6-0) showed their wares in an early Top 10 showdown with Greater Atlanta Christian. David Leonard scored two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win.

Aquinas will learn a little more after a meeting with third-ranked Savannah Country Day (6-1) on Saturday.

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.



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