Jefferson has never played for a girls’ soccer state championship. The program it’s facing has won eight of them.
And while Dragon players give perennial powerhouse Marist its due respect entering their Thursday (May 5) Class AAAA state championship clash, they’re not backing down either.
“I know they’re going to come out strong,” said junior Ella Parker, who noted that Marist may carry a “Who’s Jefferson?” mentality going into the game. “Player to player, they might be better than us, but I think we’re a better team than they are. I think we come together better than they do.”
Jefferson (14-3-1) faces Marist (15-5) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mercer University.
“I’m confident that we’re going to get the win, and get the ring,” senior Rylie Servatius said.
The program had reached the Final Four twice (2017, 2019) but has broken through this postseason with its first ever state finals appearance. Jefferson advanced through the postseason by knocking off three No. 1 seeds on the road.
“(We’re) super excited,” said senior Abbey Eison, a Georgia State signee. “I know we’ve all worked as seniors for the past four years to get to this point, and we’ve finally made it.”
“I’m just really excited,” said fellow senior Macy McGinnis said. “I just really think our team has really good chemistry, it’ synergy. We’re ready for them.”
The win that vaulted Jefferson into the finals was a particularly meaningful one. The Dragons routed Northwest Whitfield 5-0 on April 28, avenging a 2-0 loss to the Bruins in last year’s Sweet 16.
Eison admitted to being somewhat surprised by the final margin.
“I knew that if we played as a team we would do good, but the 5-0 definitely shocked me, but once we got on the field we played like we knew how to,” she said. “We shut them down.”
Players said they had added motivation after watching Northwest Whitfield’s celebrate last year’s win and seeing a “2-0” score displayed on the scoreboard when they arrived at the Bruin’s stadium last Thursday.
“I think that’s what motivated me,” Eison said. “I definitely wanted to beat them.”
Dragon players also felt they dominated last year's game without a win to show for it.
“And I just think after last year, we beat them in every stat, except the score,” said senior Carter Drake, a Georgia College signee.
Jefferson has enjoyed an interesting playoff journey.
Aside from an 11-0 opening-round win over Hapeville Charter, the Dragons have played on the road exclusively. Jefferson’s charter bus has traveled over 1,000 miles as the team continues to win games far away from home.
The travel has been both galvanizing and a grind.
“It’s been both because we’ve made a lot of memories with each other, but just having to get off the bus and having to go play is just hard on your body, but I think we’ve handled it good,” Servatius said.
“I think we definitely come together on the road,” added Drake.
Which brings the team to Thursday’s two-plus hour road trip to Macon for the Class AAAA finals.
Jefferson will face a Marist team that knocked off No. 1-ranked and perviously 21-0 North Oconee, 3-0.
The War Eagles have won their four playoff games by a combined 26-0 score.
“They’re in the state championship,” Drake said. “They’re going to be good.”
But the Dragons enter the finals not having lost since March 25. Jefferson has outscored its postseason competition 28-1.
“I just think that we can do this,” sophomore Kate James said. “We were are the underdogs in everything, but we believe in ourselves. The whole community believes in us, and Marist, they’re just a team.”
For a program that only lacks a state championship on its résumé, the chance to make history is finally upon the team.
“I feel like we’re all kind of still in shock that we’re here,” Parker said. “Like we’ve all just been waiting to get here, and now it’s finally here, so I think we’re just really ready to play.”
As senior Meg Mizenis put it succinctly.
“I’m just excited to be here,” she said.