Augusta Christian QB Jeb Bradford scrambles past Ronald Smith of Johnson High School and scores on a 31 yard run at the high school football game between Augusta Christian and Johnson High School on August 19, 2021 in North Augusta, SC. [MIKE ADAMS FOR THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Coming off a win last Friday over Richmond Academy in a game that came to fruition in just a matter of days, Augusta Christian finds itself in familiar territory.

The 2-0 Lions were originally scheduled to play Cardinal Newman on Friday, but the game fell through due to COVID issues with the Cardinals. Less than 24 hours after the cancellation, Augusta Christian tweeted it had found an opponent in Athens Academy, which recently had its Friday night game at Commerce called off due to COVID issues. 

Augusta Christian coach Andrew Stickel said the two schools came to an agreement rather quickly, thanks to social media.

“Being flexible is the new norm. Coach (Charles) Cooper (Augusta Christian AD) saw their post on Twitter last night and it came together pretty quickly after that,” he said. “Twitter has been big for us in that way.”

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Athens Academy athletic director Kevin Petroski took to Twitter Tuesday morning in search of an opponent. 

“Commerce just canceled Thursday’s JV and Friday’s varsity games due to health issues within the school,” he tweeted. “@AthensAcademyFB is seeking like opponents for both games. DM if interested.”

Cardinal Newman is a region opponent for Augusta Prep, so that game came with SCISA state playoff implications. Stickel said it will go down as a no contest and won’t be reflected on either team’s win/loss record, but for region standings purposes, it will be a win for the Lions.

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This makes back-to-back weeks of unfamiliar opponents for the Lions, who have persevered up until this point. Getting this game on the schedule was a big win for Stickel, who knows keeping his team on the field will pay dividends in the later part of th

“We’re constantly looking,” Stickel said, “for ways to sharpen our sword.”

This is far from the first case of COVID-related shuffling of schedules. Burke County closed school for two weeks due to a rise in cases and was forced reschedule a pair of games, the second of which against Richmond Hill was moved to this Friday.

Glenn Hills canceled its season opener the day of, Josey has yet to play an official game and Fox Creek recent canceled its second-straight contest.

Friday night, the Athens-area soccer scene will prove why it’s a state powerhouse. 

North Oconee’s girls, a Class 4A school ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history, hosts Class A Private No. 2 Athens Academy in one of Georgia’s most highly anticipated showdowns. 

Having two top-ranked soccer programs has become normal for the Athens area, as witnessed by this season’s wealth of ranked programs. 

Nine boys and girls teams are in the top 10 of the Eurosport Scoreboard rankings, the main site in the country for all things prep soccer.

Commerce’s girls top the Class A Public charts while Oconee County’s girls and Athens Academy’s boys are ranked second in Class 3A and A Private, respectively. 

Two years removed from a Class 4A state title, Oconee County’s boys rank third in Class 3A while Clarke Central’s boys (sixth, Class 5A), Jefferson’s girls (fifth, Class 4A) and Jefferson’s boys (seventh) are also in the top 10 of their classifications. 

With an overabundance of soccer programs and sheer numbers, it’s no surprise that Atlanta has several of the state’s best high school teams. But what makes the Athens-area a close second produces similar opinions from area coaches. 

“I think the clubs around here are really starting to grow,” said Deanna Shaw, Commerce’s girls coach and a longtime coach at the Oconee Futbol Club. “The coaches at those clubs are doing such a good job of getting those players developed and ready for high school.” 

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Club soccer programs in the area have fed teams for several years, but they’ve grown leaps and bounds in the past decade, according to Shaw. 

High school coaches agree that the efforts of club soccer programs are essential to their success, but most say their talented players come from a number of differing youth programs. 

For Oconee County High School, most players have been on the same teams for years, rising through U-9 to U-19 age groups to form a cohesive unit into their days as Warriors. 

Commerce and Jefferson use Jackson County’s Alliance Soccer Club to develop youth while the Athens United program out of Holland Park north of downtown evolves players that filter to Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals. 

Occasionally high school players will cross over to other programs, and North Oconee coach Ben Grassmyer says many of his players make the drive to Atlanta to play on some of the nation’s best club teams.  

“The area in general, I think my first thought is that it’s such a soccer town,” Grassmyer said. “The local people of Athens and the Oconee area, there’s such a soccer culture here. There’s a lot of soccer people embedded within the UGA community and kids end up playing soccer. We’re just fortunate to have that.” 

Local competition has built are teams as well. 

Instead of traveling to Atlanta throughout the season to find challenging non-region games, Athens-area teams can