Entering the final week of the regular season, the Warriors are ranked 10th in the latest Eurosport Class AAAAA state poll at 13-2 overall and 8-2 in Region 6AAAAA, earning them the No. 2 seed for the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
For North Atlanta coach Jay Bland, a veteran roster with eight seniors has made a big difference this season.
“We have a lot of leadership this year and that’s helped us win a lot of games this year,” Bland said. “For the most part, I have more seniors than we’ve had in a long time. Having senior leadership is key.”
As the boys’ soccer coach at Sutton Middle School as well as North Atlanta, Bland has coached most of his players since they were in the sixth grade, which he said has been a big boost in the development of the program.
“I’ve been with a lot of these players for six or seven years, so working at Sutton Middle School has given me a chance to develop our talent,” Bland said. “It’s like a [soccer club] lower academy. I know exactly who I want to play in high school. I know exactly their styles of play, who fits where.”
Defense has also been a crucial part of North Atlanta’s success, with its veteran backfield recording eight shutouts in the Warriors’ 13 games.
“Our players who played defense the year before are still here,” Bland said. “We’re not losing any seniors on defense, except for one player. So that’s how we have a much stronger defense this year.”
Senior goalkeeper Richard Garcia has led a North Atlanta defensive unit that includes key contributions from junior Joshua Uribe and sophomore Quandry Glass.
The Warriors have been putting the ball in the net as well, scoring an average of more than four goals a game.
Senior midfielders Jack Buckelew, Nico Marin and Joao DeSilva have provided much of North Atlanta’s offensive spark as well as solid veteran leadership.
While Bland said he and his team are excited to qualify for the state playoffs, he said that just making the postseason isn’t enough as the Warriors face a first-round game against a team in Region 8AAAAA, which includes some of the best teams in the state.
“Our goal wasn’t just to make the state playoffs, but to advance in the state playoffs,” Bland said. “These guys know that and are ready to play. We’re going to be matched up with a region that includes Gainesville or Clarke Central and we could potentially be matched up with one of those teams, which are very good. So, we are happy with the state playoffs and we think we have a good chance of advancing as well.”
With an annual infusion of players from a Sutton program that has won the Metro Atlanta League championship the last four years in a row, Bland said he is optimistic about the direction that North Atlanta is going.
“The future is looking good for us,” he said.