Lady Canes set for challenge of defending champ

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The Cartersville High girls soccer team broke into the Eurosport state rankings for the first time this season on Monday, placing 10th in the latest Class 4A rankings.

That would be fairly impressive to most programs, but not for the one the Lady Canes face Tuesday in the second round of the state tournament.

St. Pius X is ranked No. 3 in those same rankings, and hosts a Cartersville team Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. that will be the heavy underdog.

"I'm not delusional. We're going to have to play our A-game and they're going to have to make mistakes. But stranger things have happened," Cartersville head coach Chad Murray said of Tuesday's game. "I feel like we're a good team, and I feel like the last two games [region championship loss to LaGrange and first-round win over Heritage] are good examples of that. I feel like, if we played the whole year like we've played the last two games, the record would be even better than it is.

"If we play clean, play smart, play hard, I think we can compete. That's the goal, just to go down there and compete. I think it's a huge opportunity to make a statement. Win or lose, I think you make a statement if you go down there and compete with a team like this. You don't know what's going to happen, you just have to go give it a shot and that's all you can do."

The GHSA has only crowned state champions in girls soccer since 1992. It started out with one champ for the whole state, then two in 1995 and three in 1997.

Since the GHSA has gone to three state champs, St. Pius in Atlanta has won 11 state titles, including eight of the last nine and five in a row.

Without question, St. Pius is one of the premier programs in the state, and the Lady Canes are fully aware of what they're up against Tuesday.

"I just know they're always there. Even the year they didn't win it [2012], they were in the final game," Murray said. "So that says a lot about your program and the coaching, the type of soccer player you can attract at St. Pius there in Atlanta."

While Cartersville will have to pull off a major upset to reach the state quarterfinals because of its draw, the team does feel it's an Elite-8-caliber squad. Cartersville narrowly lost a 1-0 region championship game against LaGrange on April 19 in which Cartersville outplayed its opponent. The Lady Canes then cruised to a 4-1 win over Heritage in the first round of state last week.

Kalli Scheff has been a revelation as the goalkeeper for Cartersville, and the team boasts strong defensive players, as well as a solid mix of speed and skill up front.

Overall, Cartersville sits at 11-7 for the year, was the No. 3 seed coming out of Region 5-AAAA and actually outscored St. Pius over the course of the year.

However, that stat does't accurately indicate the quality of the Golden Lions, who are 11-6-2 despite having played one of the tougher schedules in the state.

Murray said St. Pius' talent and depth is evident on tape.

"I've got a little film on them, and even when they substitute, they sub seven at a time. Probably the girls sitting on the bench that don't start are just as good as the starters. So a lot of fresh legs," he said. "They get after you. You don't have any time. If the ball comes to your feet, you have to make quick decisions because they're on you. If the girls starts to slow down, they just put another set of fresh legs in there."

Most teams will play ultra-defensive and try to keep the score as low as possible against a superior team like St. Pius. Murray doesn't ascribe to that theory.

"I've watched film and some teams try to turtle against them and bring the game to PKs," he said. "I just don't think we're going to approach it that way. I think we're going to go play our game. We may make some tweaks to our formation a little bit. But we just have to go out there and play hard and play smart."

That mentality of not changing the team's style and not backing down is a mentality Cartersville hopes it can carry into its biggest challenge of the season.

"It's a senior-led team. I think they're relishing the opportunity," Murray said. "You can hear words all you want to, but we'll know [Tuesday night] when we step on to the field if we're kind of playing a little in awe or not. But I think they're looking forward to the opportunity."