Soccer postseason set to begin this week

File / The Herald

Wetumpka’s Sophia Rawls (30) is a part of the young core that has helped lead the Indians back to the postseason for the second time in program history.

The road to Huntsville begins this week as the AHSAA soccer postseason gets underway Thursday night. With four teams from across the county in the playoffs, there is a variety of expectations entering the first round.

Both Holtville teams will start on the opening night with a trip to Montgomery Academy. The girls will play at 5:30 followed by the boys at 7:30 p.m. Despite winning seven of its final eight games, the boys team fell just short of the section title and will go on the road after dropping its regular season finale at Valley.

The Bulldogs (7-0-6) are in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season but they have not won a playoff game since 2015. Things will not get any easier Thursday when they face the No. 2 team in the Class 4A-5A coaches’ poll.

“This is definitely going to be a challenge,” Holtville coach Robby Broom said. “It’s a good measuring stick to see where we are as a program. Our guys like to play against teams like this.”

Holtville wants to enter the game with confidence but the Bulldogs know they will have to play a near-perfect game to have a chance at advancing. Broom said keeping possession is his team’s biggest strength but it will have to be careful when Montgomery Academy gets the ball.

“We have to be ready for their counters,” Broom said. “We have to stay in position and every man has to do their job. Their overall team speed is tough and they don’t give the defense too much time to react.”

The Holtville girls team (5-1-6) defeated Valley in its final area game to clinch a playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Montgomery Academy also has one of the top girls teams in the state and is ranked No. 2 in 4A-5A.

The Wetumpka girls team (4-4-8) is making a rare appearance in the postseason as coach Jessica Holbert continues to build the program. The Indians have lost six of their last eight games but finished off a season sweep of Stanhope Elmore last week to earn a playoff spot.

“This is only the second time our girls have been in the playoffs,” Holbert said. “We want to make sure they know regardless of the score, we want to go down there and compete. If we get down there, try our best and compete, we’re going to be okay with whatever the scoreboard says.”

Wetumpka will travel to Opelika at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to face an opponent the team has become familiar with over the last two seasons. The two teams were in the same area in 2017 and 2018 with Opelika getting wins in all four matches.

While the Indians have struggled against some of the better opponents they have seen this season, Holbert is expecting to see some fight from her team against Opelika.

“You have programs that are used to losing and they don’t expect anything else so nothing changes,” Holbert said. “We’re trying to change that here. It’s about making those memories and competing.”

The Stanhope Elmore boys team is the only team in the county with a home game in the first round. After winning Class 6A Section 6, the Mustangs (14-3-3) will host Opelika at 6 p.m. Friday.

Stanhope entered the season with hopes of a run to the final four and will be one of the favorites to get to Huntsville in 6A. The Mustangs are ranked No. 3 in 6A but could have to go through three ranked teams (No. 12 Opelika, No. 10 Benjamin Russell and No. 2 Northridge) to get to the semifinals.