There are times in high school sports when a once-in-a-generation player emerges .
When looking at the stats of Clare Culligan from St. John’s Prep, it would be easy to argue that she is of that caliber.
Through 16 regular season games in 2012, she has scored 56 goals for the Johnnies, an average of more than a hat-trick per game and easily the highest goal tally in the state.
In 2011, she notched 39 goals during her junior year, more than double the total of the state’s second-leading scorer.
Culligan’s passion and desire to improve is what has shaped her as a player.
She credits her love for the sport to her dad, who has been a supportive figure in her development.
“My dad has always been encouraging of me,” Culligan said. “That’s what has helped me learn.
“His passion for the game has fueled my own passion. He’s been really important to me.”
A senior in the midst of her sixth full varsity season for St. John’s Prep, Culligan was elected by players and coaches to be team captain in 2012.
She is more than aware of the importance of her role, and it is something that she seems to embrace.
“I love my role,” Culligan said. “Back when I was a seventh grader, I looked up to the seniors on the team just like some of our younger players look up to me now.
“Being someone that players look up to and ask for help is a huge compliment to me. I love helping my teammates in any way that I can.”
Culligan has been a top performer for the Johnnies since her arrival.
However, 2012 has been a season of new challenges, especially now that she serves as the captain.
Four starters from last season graduated this past spring, leaving behind a much younger group for Culligan to lead.
A lack of veteran presence on the field is something that has potential to cause frustration for team leaders, but head coach Stephen Larson insists that she is more than up to the task of leading the Johnnies to success.
“She is very patient with the other players on our team,” he said. “She is just as willing to play a pass to another teammate as she is to take on a defender one-on-one.
“She doesn’t let the lack of experience on the team frustrate her. There’s a younger crowd around her this season, but she has still managed to be just as productive this year as she has been in the past. She’s a very special player.”
“Every game has its share of frustrating moments, but that has always been the case,” Culligan said. “It makes me feel proud as the captain when my teammates execute during games.
“We work hard in practice, and watching that hard work pay off for us on the field is something I love to see.”
The Johnnies played their final regular season game against St. Cloud Cathedral on Thursday in Granite Ridge Conference play. St. John’s was defeated 4-3, but Culligan showed with her performance that she was the best player on the field for either team.
During the first half, St. John’s Prep faced three separate one-goal deficits, and each time Culligan brought the Johnnies back to level terms.
With 26:21 remaining in the first half and the score 1-0 in favor of the Crusaders, a strong run made by Culligan up the right side of the field led to the first St. John’s score to tie the game.
After brushing her defender aside, she unleashed a powerful shot that Cathedral keeper Mo Schroeder was able to save.
However, the rebound from the shot left the net wide open for eighth-grader Taylor Nydeen, who finished her chance into the bottom corner to give St. John’s their first goal of the game.
Ten minutes later, with the score 2-1 to Cathedral, Culligan rallied her team again.
With 16:35 remaining in the half, Culligan powered a free kick into the back of the net from 25 yards out to make it 2-2.
With just over 30 seconds left in the first half and her team trailing 3-2, Culligan notched her second goal of the day and the team’s third equalizer.
After receiving the ball at the half-way line, she began a charging run up the right-hand side, beating two defenders in the process, and finished her chance from a difficult angle with a strong shot across the face of the goal to make it 3-3 just before halftime.
After a flurry of goals in the first half, all it took was one in the second half for the Crusaders to break the tie and escape Collegeville with a narrow 4-3 conference win.
Win, lose or draw, Culligan has fun every time she steps on the field.
“It’s so much fun to be out there,” she said. “Even with the loss today, my teammates and I have a blast out on the field.”
Culligan is preparing to lead the Johnnies into the postseason next week with section match-ups still to be determined.
The team is 10-6 (6-4).