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GPS vs. Knoxville Catholic

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GPS soccer coach Patrick Winecoff started his postgame speech Thursday night by handing the Division II-AA East Region championship plaque to his two seniors.

Blessed with an extraordinary amount of young talent, the Bruisers let captains Alex Magill and Meg Priest soak in the moment.

Both were pivotal in the 3-0 shutout of Knoxville Catholic, with Magill calling for a cross from Sydney Morris that she boomed to the back net in the 24th minute and Priest's suffocating defense also standing out.

"Without those two we would not be where we are now," Winecoff said. "They have not had it easy as they both have had to overcome injuries. But to have both of them healthy now is really exciting to see."

A season after taking down Father Ryan 2-1 for the program's second state title, the goal remains the same.

GPS is 16-2, and its 3-0 road loss to last year's state runner-up came with both seniors out.

For Magill, returning after breaking a shinbone in July has been worth every second of the tough rehab. Referred to as a "natural sniper" by her coach, she has five goals in as many games in her return.

"We are really driven to get another ring," Magill said. "We have a young team, but we have all grown up together fast. Being able to play at this time of the season is special. To win and do it all as a team is very important to me."

The Bruisers were extremely sound defensively in the region title match against Catholic (11-7). GPS keeper Alie Williams made three of her five saves in a seven-minute span in the first half, and Jessica Salisbury made a textbook slide tackle to deny another opportunity.

"We've been without our starting keeper from last season for most of the year, and Alie has done an amazing job stepping up and leading," Winecoff said. "Meg moved up to the center midfield, and Erin Marshall and Megan Jones have done a really good job in new roles for us defensively."

GPS has scored 83 goals this season, an average of 4.6 per game, as it works to become the first repeat champion in DII-AA since Baylor in 2010.

Junior Ashley Grant scored her team-leading 20th goal off a second-half penalty kick. The left-footed boomer fired off eight shots and also broke the defense down off a throw-in run from midfield to assist freshman Kennedy Ball's goal in the fifth minute.

"It is really difficult to get to the final and win it," Winecoff added. "It seems like the really good teams usually have a lot of older players. But we are kind of the opposite. We have a lot of younger players, but they play like they are older."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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