BUFORD – Megan Hill could barely breathe or get words out.

A horde of Buford girls’ soccer players ran across the turf fields and erupted in a screeching roar as the final buzzer sounded.

After losing to Walton in the second round a season ago after a tremendous regular season, Buford had done it. The Wolves made it past the “Sweet Sixteen” to advance to the “Elite Eight,” where they hadn’t found themselves since 2022. 

“It was almost a jinx or a curse,” fifth-year head coach Megan Hill said. “We got over that hump from the second half last year. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, and you always want to try to advance to the next game.”

Buford (18-0-1) kept its undefeated season rolling with a grind-it-out 1-0 victory over Milton. Buford dropped a surprising second-round decision, 2-1, to Walton in a game that senior Abby Kilman said her team might’ve overlooked the opponent. The Wolves eked out the victory over Milton without a first-half goal, then Kaitlyn White’s heroics gave them the decisive score. 

Unlike the opening-round trouncing of Wheeler where Buford’s offense paced the way, it topped Milton by way of its defensive prowess. Kilman led the way in the midfield and freshman Mara Sheppard won a slew of 50-50 possessions to win the team’s acclaimed GRIT award. 

“When you stick with a game plan and execute it,” Hill said. “It’s pretty to see.”

Buford’s game plan involved playing plenty of contain defense. Hill knew Milton would have plenty of opportunities in the opposing half, even if senior goalkeeper Alina Pope wouldn’t be tested time-after-time. 

In most games throughout the season, Buford has been decisive in the first half and allowed the defense to settle in for the final 40 minutes of regulation in hand. Against Milton, however, it played to a stalemate. The Wolves weren’t deterred entering the halftime locker room, however, and walked off of the field with a locked-in mentality. 

The coaches’ message was simple: Take a deep breath.

Moments later, when the second half began, White scored a goal within the first five minutes (and 14 seconds). The early scoring punch, known as “Big Five” is an emphasis within the Buford program.

“We all knew it was coming,” said Pope, who pumped her fist from the opposing goal after seeing White score 100 yards away. “It was like a breath of fresh air for our whole team. I knew we would do everything we could not to concede a goal.”

In the final five minutes of the game, Milton shifted its players up the field in an attacking effort. It tried to force an additional period of play, but Hill wanted her team to keep the “pedal to the metal,” and Buford prevailed. 

The level of exuberance and elation mirrored that of a state championship title – Buford’s ultimate goal. The second-round victory, however, felt like it in many ways. Kilman said her team faced a bit of a “mental block” while Pope added that Buford got over the “nervousness” of the result a year ago.

Now, Buford finds itself a step closer and gets to play on its home turf for the remaining two games prior to the title match. 

“We aren’t done,” Pope said. “We’re just getting started.”

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