After missing the state playoffs in 2018 and 2019, the Winder-Barrow boys’ soccer team was sitting at 7-4 last spring and in solid position to break that postseason skid. But an initially-scheduled two-week hold following a 2-1 loss to rival Apalachee eventually turned into the cancellation of the remainder of the season as the coronavirus pandemic raged on.

“Barring something crazy,” Bulldoggs coach Levi Karas is optimistic that his team will get to play a full season through the ongoing pandemic in 2021, and, though they lost a few key seniors off the 2020 squad, they return plenty of experienced players who should serve them well in what he believes will be a competitive GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA.

“We felt like we were having a very good season before we had the plug pulled on it, but that really strong junior class from last year should give us a good core group of seniors,” Karas said prior to his team’s regular-season opener Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Gainesville. “I think we have a lot of good players who have a chance to take us far. But it’s going to be important for us to play well and be able to close out those tough, competitive games.”

Central to the Bulldoggs’ efforts this season will be a trio of attacking midfielders, led by Will Perry (1 goal, 5 assists last year), who Karas has called one of the most technically-gifted players he has coached.

“He’s been a team leader for us for several years now and provides a lot of good stuff for us,” Karas said of Perry. “He’s a big key in linking up play and connecting the whole team together on the field.” Seniors Aaron Diaz (5 goals, 7 assists in 2020) and Santiago Orozco also return in the midfield, along with senior striker Daniel Saucedo and senior wing Chance Barron (3 goals, 4 assists) will aid in the attack.

Seniors Efrain Alvarado and David Dauphin will anchor the back line, and junior Caylan Barron is back as a second-year starter in goal.

“He’s coming off a really good club season and looked very good in our scrimmage,” Karas said of the younger Barron. “He’s another year older and wiser, and I think he’ll be stellar for us. It gives us a lot of confidence on the defensive end.”

Karas said the Bulldoggs had an “encouraging” outing in their Friday, Jan. 29 scrimmage against West Hall, a 2-0 victory, and they were expecting their season opener Tuesday at Gainesville to be a strong test for how equipped they are to take on a balanced and competitive region, which lost Gainesville and Apalachee but gained Buford, Central Gwinnett and Shiloh. Along with Winder-Barrow, Dacula, Lanier and Habersham Central also return to the region.

“I don’t think there’s really a weak link, which is going to make the season a tough grind,” Karas said, noting that, with the region expanding to seven teams, the Bulldoggs will play two more region contests and will play fewer matches before jumping into region play Feb. 16 against Lanier.

“The experience we have is going to be a huge asset this season,” Karas said. “We did lose several important seniors from last year, but a lot of these guys have been through tough battles together and been together for a while. Chemistry-wise, we seem to be clicking as a unit, and I’m hoping for big things. And I’m hoping they can lead our younger guys along, and we can put together a great season.”

The Bulldoggs will be back in action 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Oconee County before hosting Cedar Shoals in their home opener at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9. 

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