By Jonathan Deal
Six state tournament appearances, 110 wins and one state championship. That’s what Athens girls soccer team has accomplished under head coach J.B. Hutchison over the past six years.
Hutchison announced last month he would step down to pursue a law degree, but not before picking up another News Courier Girls Soccer Coach of the Year honor.
He garnered the same honor last year after leading AHS to its first state championship appearance after five previous losses in the semifinals. Athens lost that game in the final minutes to Chelsea, something Hutchison nor the players were quick to forget.
After coming so close to winning it all, Hutchison wanted to make sure the team was ready for anything this year. The sixth-year coach put together a much harder schedule that was sure to test his team’s limits.
“That’s one thing I talked to the captains about before the season,” Hutchison said. “Iron sharpens iron, and we felt like those tough games would expose some things we had to work on. (The players) were willing to accept that and had the desire to play good teams.”
Athens played six top-10 teams from Class 6A in the first month of the season and stumbled to a 3-7 record. That was before area play started, however.
Athens finished the season 17-3-3, including a perfect 6-0 record in area play. Playing the tough competition paid off late in the season, as was evident in team’s final game of the season against a top-ranked Grissom team.
“Playing new teams gives you a little added excitement,” Hutchison said. “When we really hit our stride against Grissom, I think that was a turning point. They started to realize that we have something special here.”
Athens defeated Briarwood in dramatic fashion in the semifinals at the state tournament this year before finally hoisting the Blue Map with a 1-0 victory over St. Paul’s. It’s been six weeks since that emotional state championship performance.
“It’s still at times somewhat surreal,” Hutchison said. “It was a realization of something that we had been working on for so long. To be able to get back there every year, I really credit the girls who came through the program.”
After six seasons of unparallel success in Class 5A, Hutchison is passing the torch to another coach that will inherit a group of talented players.
“It’s been an honor to coach the girls and be a part of this community. It was a blessing,” said Hutchison. “I look forward for them to continue the tradition.”