It was an up-and-down first two games for the Newton boys' soccer team, dealing with injuries at some key positions and experience at others.
The Rams fell 7-1 at Dacula with starting defender, Evan Leahy, out with a sprained ankle, and fellow starter Cody Tait, out with a broken hand. The next game, Newton picked up its first win, 4-2, over Eastside.
The latter result is what Newton coach Tim Hardison expects from a team that reached the state playoffs for the first time since 2007, a year ago.
Hardison has plenty of returning players to help reach a second-straight state tournament, starting in goal, with keeper Rudolfo Michaca. The senior started every game a year ago, and is locked in between the goalposts every game this season.
"He's very knowledgeable about the game," Hardison said. "He's not the biggest guy but he's very mobile and does a good job in the net."
In front of Michaca are four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
Jaime Medina is a second-year starter at the sweeper position, bringing a physical presence to the Rams' defense.
"He's steady and physical, which is what I need," Hardison said. "We want to be as physical as we can."
In front of Medina is stopper Leahy, who is expected to be back for the Alcovy game on Feb. 28. On either side of the defense is Leonel Michaca, Rudolfo's younger brother, and Tait.
Newton has plenty of talent in midfield, with center-mid Justin Ferguson.
"To me Justin is probably the best player in the county," Hardison said. "He's got such a strong leg, he can put the ball on frame once we get past the midfield."
Ferguson started out as a stopper with the Rams before a change to the 4-4-2 formation moved him to more of an attacking role.
The other center midfielder, is a newcomer to both Newton and the U.S., in Robert Klemm. Klemm, a sophomore foreign exchange student from Germany has brought European talent to the Rams.
"I've been very pleased with his play so far," Hardison said.
On the outside is Newton's speed in Justin Johnson and Jean Frimpong.
"Jean is probably the fastest kid on our team," Hardison said. "When we are doing conditioning he would always be out in front. Jean was the rabbit, and the rest of them were hounds trying to catch him, and nobody ever caught him."
The Rams have two scorers up top in newcomer Alexis Lacierva and senior, third-year starter Khari Mullings.
"(Mullings) is left footed, and that throws people off, especially when he rips one in there form the top of the 18," Hardison said. "It just takes a funny curve off the left foot."
Mullings, Lacierva, Frimpong, Johnson, Klemm and Ferguson give the Rams six strong scoring threats from anywhere in their opponents area.
"All the guys we have attacking have pretty good range on their shots, which is a first for us in a long time," Hardison said. "All six of them can put the ball on net."
With that kind of scoring threat, Hardison feels that the Rams will be able to play with the rest of Region 2-AAAAA, including powers East Coweta, Newnan and Stephenson.
"It's our expectation to be one of the top four teams in the region and make the playoffs."