The success Brebeuf Jesuit’s girls soccer team had this season — a state title, an unbreakable bond and numerous postseason awards — started with a pumpkin.
Coach Angela Berry-White needed a metaphor to motivate her team. In 2014, her first year as coach, she’d used a light switch, telling the team she expected them to “flip a switch and play at a different level.” That Braves team proceeded to win 22 straight games behind an offense that scored 115 goals and featured the program’s first All-American (Reilly Martin) and Gatorade Player of the Year (also Martin). The team lost in the regional final, 3-1 to Carmel.
This season, Berry-White wanted to signal that she expected the team to be playing in the state final on Halloween. She spray-painted a pumpkin maroon and gold, and the Braves reached unprecedented heights.
Brebeuf won its first state title and in the weeks and months that have followed, postseason awards have come pouring in. The team had three first team All-District players (Ryanne Brown, Shaili Kumar, Alia Martin) and one second-team All-District player (Hallie Pearson), two first-team All-State players (Brown and Martin) and one second-team All-State player (Kumar).
Brown (26 goals, 26 assists) was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association’s All-Region team, while Martin was named the Indiana Player of The Year. Both Brown and Martin were named All-Americans, and Berry-White was named Indiana Coach of the Year.
“My coach has put me in a position to be an All-American,” Brown said. “She helped me a lot throughout the season and also worked with me outside of practice. The fact that we won state on top of it makes it even more special.”
For Martin, the credit goes to her teammates.
“Everyone pushed each other. Nobody was divided,” she said. “My success was based around the people I was with.”
And for Berry-White, she looks to her players and coaching staff.
“You don’t get these honors without the people around you,” she said. “Unless players perform and do so well like we did, you don’t get to be recognized. ‘To the victors belong the spoils.’ It’s not all me, it’s a true reflection of our program.”
It could all be found in the pumpkin. Before each game, Berry-White put slips of paper inside it that had a word for the players.
Once it was “relentless.” Once it was “perseverance.” Once it was “family.”
“It was to think about a higher purpose and think beyond themselves for what they were doing for that game,” she said. “It was something they looked forward to on a game-by-game basis.”
She has a list of each word she used throughout the season, but didn’t need to refer to anything to recall what she had the players focus on before their state title match against Penn.
“Going through everything we’d gone through the entire season, it was destiny for us to be there,” she said. “It was our final chapter.”
And what a final chapter it was.
The Braves opened the season with five straight wins before a 1-0 loss to Carmel that was decided in the closing minute. But instead of the loss lowering team morale, it showed Brebeuf just how close they were.
“It triggered that feeling of, ‘We can play with them. We can play better than them. Let’s keep training, and we’ll get them the next time,’” said junior captain Alia Martin, who led the team with 29 assists and scored 14 goals.
After dropping another 1-0 decision to Zionsville in late September, the Braves reeled off five straight wins to finish the regular season. It was at some point during that stretch that Martin began to believe.
“You could see we really were a team, and we could actually do what coach was saying,” she said. “When I saw what our team could be, I bought into the idea that we could win it all.”
The Braves rolled through sectionals, defeating Ben Davis 8-0 in the final, and had to overcome halftime deficits in regional games against Cathedral and Zionsville. Both times, Brebeuf pulled out 3-1 wins.
“Right then, we made that next step,” Berry-White said. “We said that winning these two games was going to be huge step in the direction of us completing our task.”
Brebeuf won its first semistate game in program history the next week, and moved on to the state finals that night after a 2-0 win against Castle.
The Braves had their final practice on Oct. 30. They played their final game on Halloween.
The Braves fell behind 1-0 to Penn at halftime, but scored a pair of unanswered goals to capture the state title.
Despite facing halftime deficits in three of the their final five games, Martin said the Braves’ confidence never wavered.
“It was always, ‘We’re going to come back.’ It was like a given,” she said.
When the final whistle blew, Brown called it a “fairy tale.”
“It was a moment I’m never going to forget,” she said.
In the aftermath of the victory, Brown found goalkeeper Lauren Turner, whose mother, Stephanie, was battling cancer and had been told weeks ago she had days to live. Turner’s mother was in a suite across the field. Turner sprinted to find her. The rest of the team followed suit.
“I’ve never seen her sprint that fast before,” Brown said. “I remember trying to get everybody to come with us. It was a really special moment.”
Alia Martin, who had assists on both Brebeuf goals in the final game, knew the win was more than just numbers on a scoreboard.
“We recognized that that win meant so much to Lauren and to her mom that it wasn’t about the win for us,” she said. “It was about something more. It was about the connection we could all have. It was so inspiring to be able to make her happy and put a smile on her face.”