A chance to win the boys and girls GISA state soccer championships this weekend won’t be the only thing on the minds of players for Frederica Academy.
The Lady Knights face Deerfield-Windsor 2 p.m Friday at Mercer University in Macon, with the boys facing Fugees Academy in their semifinal game starting at 4:30 p.m. on the same field.
After the games, the players from both teams will board a bus and head back to St. Simons Island for Saturday’s graduation ceremony, which begins at 9 a.m.
The challenge for both teams will be if they win their semifinal games. The girls championship game is 4 p.m. at Mercer with the boys championship game at 6:30 p.m.
Boys coach Tim O’Sullivan said he has 10 seniors on his team and another four players have siblings who will graduate Saturday.
“Graduation, especially for family members, is an important time,” O’Sullivan said. “It makes it a little more challenging.”
If the girls win Friday, it will be especially difficult to get them to Macon for the championship game at 2 p.m., but coach Christy Bumgartner said the team will find a way.
“It’s doable,” she said. “We will have to leave immediately after graduation. I hope we’re in that situation. This is the Final Four.”
The pressure will be less for the boys team if they win with a later start time for their championship game.
O’Sullivan said his boys team is experienced, having made it to the Final Four each of the last four years. Last season, the Knights made it to the state championship game where they lost to Westminister, one of the other boys teams still in the playoffs.
O’Sullivan said his players are a little anxious, but they aren’t nervous about playing the biggest game of the season Friday.
“The time is now. They’ve been working toward this all season,” he said.
The team set a list of goals at the beginning of the season and how they want people to view the team, checking each box as the goals have been accomplished.
“Now it’s time for another check mark — a big check mark,” he said. “The special part for these guys is what they’ve accomplished over the past four years with their teammates. You’re going through the highs together and you’re going through the lows together.”
This year’s team has been very unselfish, with some of the older players accepting new roles to help steady the younger players.
“Each player has such an important role,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
His team is as healthy as can be expected after a long season, with several players nursing bruises and bumps but nothing that will keep them from playing.
The boys team is looking to make that final step after making it to the state championship game last season.
“It’s a maturing process for our group,” he said. “I think they are viewing this as a positive step. This is one of the more experienced teams. Hopefully it will pay off.”
Bumgartner’s girls team will face a tough Deerfield-Windsor team in the semifinals Friday.
“I know they’re undefeated,” she said. “They’re a very good team on offense and defense. It doesn’t make things easy.”
Bumgarter expects her team to play a competitive game, even against a foe with an unblemished record this season.
“It’s the kind of game where the best team should win,” she said. “But it’s a heartbreaking game because the best team doesn’t always win.”
Bumgartner said her team is young, with three eighth-graders playing. She credits senior leadership with helping the younger players grow and improve as the season progressed.
“We’ve got great leadership, and they’ve helped the younger players come into their own,” she said.
Early in the season, Bumgartner said she needed to determine the style of play the team needed to succeed and grow.
“I wanted us to possess the ball and use our backs,” she said. “It didn’t come easy. Now they’re playing the way we envisioned at the beginning of the season.”
The winner of the girls game will face the winner of the Trinity Christian/Augusta Prep game on Saturday.
Bumgartner said she expects a good crowd will travel to Macon for Friday’s game and even more will make the trip after the graduation ceremony for the state championship game if they advance.