Embracing the unexpected, St. Thomas More wins fourth straight soccer state championship
HAMMOND - Few things went as planned for the St. Thomas More girls soccer team this season.
The Cougars were was depleted to start the season, with most of the seniors and defensive players quarantined. They lost the first three games — a rarity for a team that had won three straight state championships.
Then, a once in-a-generation ice storm sent them inside for practice in the days leading up to their semifinal match. And just 72 hours before their state championship game, senior goalkeeper Avery Wright injured her hand in practice, which would keep her out of the title game.
But in the end, none of the matter, as the result at the end of the season was the same as it has been in the previous three. On Friday, St. Thomas More (20-5-4) defeated Lakeshore 4-2 at Southeastern University for its fourth straight title.
"I felt that we did a lot better this time," senior Riley Leblanc said. "I think everyone wanted it more. We felt more pressure since this was our fourth one to get it."
The Cougars ramped up their schedule this season, knowing that they had a target on their back. After dropping the first three games, St. Thomas More didn't lose another one for the next two months.
In the championship game, things again did not go as planned for the Cougars. They went down 1-0, allowing their first postseason goal in four seasons. At halftime though, the Cougars were not deterred. Instead, Leblanc said, they were confident they would even the score quickly.
"We were doing the things necessary to win the game," St. Thomas More coach Daniel Underwood said. "Reminded them of that experience that this team has. They really took it to heart."
They did just that, evening the game at 1-1 40 seconds into the second half. Lakeshore (16-5-2) added its second goal shortly after, but the Cougars bristly tied it back up again. Brooklyn Babineaux gave the Cougars a 3-2 lead, and Kate O'Neal sneaked it in late in the game to make it 4-2.
Underwood challenged the Cougars to score those two last goals not only so they could take the lead, but also so they could have enough of a cushion to send Wright into the game. With two minutes left, Underwood did just that, allowing Wright a chance to soak up the last few minutes of her high school career.
Wright, with her hair down and arm plastered in a cast, even made a quick save as time expired.
"This player has just worked tremendously worked so hard and she deserved to be on the field tonight," Underwood said. "That was an unreal injury that happened. Your heart just breaks, the human element is the most important thing."