When a team is battling for a playoff spot all it can ask for is to be in a position where it controls its own destiny.
Despite a 3-1 loss at Metter on Monday night that’s where the Bryan County girls soccer team finds itself as it gears up for the final week of regular season play.
Coach Kristen Barnhill’s team plays at Region 3A-D1 leader Screven County on Friday but regardless of the outcome of that game everything comes down to next Tuesday’s home match with Woodville- Tompkins.
Heading into the closing week defending region champion Screven (11-2, 7-0) has a lock on first with Claxton (6-6-1, 5-2) having clinched second. From there the fight for the next two playoff spots is up in the air.
Bryan County (4-8, 2-4) is currently third followed by Metter (4-7, 2-5) and Woodville (3-7, 1-6). The Tigers finish region play Friday at Claxton while Woodville has only the Redskins remaining.
So, the Redskins’ assignment is clear: beat Woodville and they’re in the GHSA state playoffs for the first time since 2016 and for the third time in the nine-year history of the program. They were also in the state playoffs in 2015.
Barnhill is in her second year at Bryan County after 13 years at Southeast Bulloch and she is in the process of transforming a program which started with great potential in 2013 but has never capitalized on that early success.
Last year the team finished 1-14, 0-10 in a difficult region which saw Screven and Claxton advance to the third round of the playoffs and Metter and McIntosh County Academy reach the second round.
After taking the job Barnhill discovered a dearth of problems to overcome, namely a lack of players in both numbers and equipment issues.
“In December I found out there was a lot of equipment upgrades needed and our uniforms were hand me downs,” Barnhill said. “It was too late to order equipment for the season. And we didn’t have players who were committed.
“We had 14 players and there were some days we would only have seven or eight show up for practice. That hasn’t been a problem this year. We’ve got a roster of 20 and we always have at least 17-18 at practice.”
After the team conducted a fund-raising drive that saw it raise approximately $6,000 for new uniforms and a push by Barnhill to recruit players, many of whom play other sports, the Redskins, she said, are headed in the right direction.
“We’re a young team learning what it takes to be successful,” Barnhill said. “We’re doing all right. We’ve had several one goal games. We’ve just got to continue to work hard and get better.”
As proof the program is trending in the right direction Bryan County has won two games by one goal (Metter, Portal) and beat Woodville in a shootout after they finished in a 2-2 deadlock. There have been four losses by one including to Screven and Claxton twice.
A big plus for the Redskins has been the influx of players from other sports, Barnhill said. While they may be short on soccer experience, they bring a lot of athletic ability and leadership.
“Leadership is the key to any organization’s success,” Barnhill said. “A lot of these kids have experienced success in other sports. They expect to win.”
Skylar Lee, a standout catcher on the Redskins softball team, is the goalkeeper and while she was reluctant to play this year--Barnhill said she had to literally beg her to return--has proven to be a godsend in both ability and leadership. She has more than 100 saves.
Freshman Liz Harvey, who shone at shortstop in softball and was a key reserve in basketball, has four goals. She and senior Hayden Joyner, an all-state pitcher in softball, have brought a winning attitude as has Nevaeh Kiefer who played basketball.
Haley Thomas and Kolbie English join with Harvey to give the Redskins two more players with scoring potential.
“Thomas is a calm presence on the field,” Barnhill said. “Get her the ball and she will do something good with it. Kolbie is a very capable scorer.
“Anywhere I put Liz she is going to be the best on the field. Hayden has been with us only a month but the difference in her play now is night and day. All of these kids have worked hard all year.”