BUFORD — Survive and advance.

That clich√© doesn’t quite apply to the Buford girls’ soccer team (17-0-1) in the dominant opening-round win of the GHSA 7A state playoffs against No. 4 seed Wheeler. Buford won 9-0, nearly forcing a mercy rule.

How about dominate and celebrate?

Buford lives to see another day and will face Milton (6-7-3, Region 6) on Tuesday, April 23 at home after its soon-to-be opponent eked out a 1-0 road victory at Norcross.

Here are three things we learned about the Wolves’ trouncing of Wheeler.

  1. Quick scoring spurts

Don’t look down at your phone or turn your head. Definitely wait to use the restroom or take a trip to the concession stand.

If you do, you’ll miss it.

In each half, Buford scored three goals in less than two minutes. It’s something that fifth-year coach Megan Hill’s team has prided itself on throughout the season, yet oh-so-rare in the game of soccer.

“It’s energy and momentum,” Hill said. “There’s a lot to it, and it’s nice to see it happening on the field. We tell them to not let your foot off of the pedal. We have to show that we’re not going to let down after a goal.”

Of the nine goals scored Tuesday, eight of them came from different contributors. Hill applauded the effort because she said it’s not “one player doing all of the work.”

Sophomore Jada Taylor led the way with two goals, also known as a brace. Taylor’s first goal came immediately after entering the game as a substitution.

Nearly the only thing Buford did wrong against Wheeler is going scoreless in nearly 17 minutes of each half. Otherwise, the offense operated quickly and piled on when it saw the opportunity.

“It feels great. One of our strengths is pressuring the ball,” said Taylor, who won the team’s GRIT honor awarded each game with a green-and-gold championship belt. “It’s nice to have everyone press at once, because it scares the back line. They freak out.”

2. “Big Five”

Hill is an avid reader. She rarely, however, picks up a book from Colleen Hoover, Emily Henry or Taylor Jenkins Reid. She’s all about motivational books and tidbits she can glean in order to push her soccer players to develop.

Hill did a book study with her team on “The Twin Thieves” by Lucas Jadin and Steve Jones. She learned of a key phrase in her reading, “Pressure is a privilege.” She didn’t hear the famous Billie Jean King quote from Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who made the words known across the college football landscape at SEC Media Days years back, but instead by her own delving into inspiration.

She places that pressure on her team by implementing the “Big Five,” a tactic learned in her college days as a player and later made into a Megan Hill-ism of her own.

The “Big Five” has two different meanings. The coach centered around off-the-pitch connectiveness defines it with five traits — character skills, discipline, resiliency, effort and humility. She translates it to the field by asking her players to “run your tank on empty.”

“We have to start strong during the first five minutes of the game,” Hill said. “First five minutes after a goal is scored. Last five minutes of the half. First five minutes of the second half. Any time that happens, we have a Big Five moment.”

Senior goalkeeper Alina Pope, who didn’t have a save opportunity against Wheeler, makes it a big deal … mainly because the team made Hill promise that they wouldn’t have to run at practice the following day if they succeeded.

“I yell it all the time. It’s such a big motto for our team,” Pope said. “We want to put all we have into those five minutes. It’s to push us to work extra, extra hard.”

3. Room to improve

Everything went flawlessly, right? That’s what it felt like to many watching from the bleachers alongside the athletic complex at Buford High School Tuesday night, but not according to Hill.

The team will use the early days of the week-long hiatus to work on film, and there’s an area to key in on when on-field practice resumes. Buford wants to key in on the crossing and finishing aspect of its game. In each half, the Wolves had some missed opportunities as crosses went sailing away out of reach of goal.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a weakness for us, but we can always continue to work on it,” Hill said. “We get so many opportunities in front of goal, and we might not see so many of those opportunities deeper in the playoffs. When you see one or two, you have to capitalize.”

Buford, ousted in the second round against Walton a year ago, returns to that stage. It knows it can’t take an opportunity for granted in an effort to advance. Hill said she’s going to push competitiveness in practice in order to replicate a game-like situation.

“It’s repetition with crossing and finishing in practice,” Taylor said. “With the finishing part, it’s about making sure someone is getting front post, back post and the late run. Sometimes, we let it go across the box. If someone’s there, we’ve got it every time.”

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