DALTON, Ga. - The Northwest Whitfield soccer team had the best season in school history in 2012, advancing all the way to the Class AAAA Elite Eight round of the Georgia state soccer playoffs. They have the talent to repeat that feat, but the road will take them down a very familiar path -- Whitfield County.
The Bruins now reside in the same sub-region as county foes Dalton and Southeast Whitfield, meaning that, to make a deep playoff push possible, they'll have to defeat either the preseason top-ranked Catamounts, or the third-ranked Raiders. Losses to both will mean they'll have to travel in the first round of the state playoffs, without the possibility of hosting at any point.
The teams always make it a point to face each other, but this season the presence of all three in the same region makes the games more important.
"It really doesn't bother me," senior captain and goalkeeper Miguel Deanda said. "It's going to be fun because they're rivals. We feel pretty confident going into the season; we have a lot of returning seniors. We have to fill in some spots, but other than that, we feel we should have a pretty strong run this year if all goes well."
Northwest, which won 14 matches last season, returns 10 seniors -- some of whom started last season. The Bruins will have to fill a need at midfielder, where they have only one returning player, but they are problems that don't necessarily have to be solved when the Bruins take the field for their first match of the season against Southeast on Tuesday.
"These last two years we were in a region with a lot of metro Atlanta schools, and the travel became taxing," Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins said. "You don't have the local rivalries; we still played them, but they didn't count for the region.
"We're excited to be in a region with other Northwest Georgia schools and I know the boys are excited about that. This is my 10th year and every year we've been taking little small steps up until last year, when we took a pretty good sized step to the Elite Eight."
In years past, the only thing gained from one of those rivalry games were bragging rights. For the next few seasons, region placement becomes a priority. So the Northwest team that takes the field Tuesday evening might not be as strong as the team that takes the pitch in April, when the state playoffs begin, since they'll be infusing three new midfielders into the attack.
"I think it's going to take some time to get guys used to their positions, and get everyone playing where they want to," Deanda said. "Other than that, we feel we can come back stronger.
"Everybody last season was like family and we had a great time, and we're looking to have similar success this season."