The No. 2-seeded St. Thomas More Lady Cougars know what’s expected of them when they face the two-time defending state champion Ben Franklin Lady Falcons at 6 p.m. Friday in the Division II state semifinals at Cougar Stadium.
After all, the Lady Falcons haven’t lost a single match over the last two seasons and sport a long list of Division I signees, so most around the state are expecting a third straight state title for Ben Franklin.
Don’t tell that to the Lady Cougars, though. With chip firmly planted on shoulder, St. Thomas More (27-3-2) is preparing to avoid being Ben Franklin’s latest victim.
“Personally, I’d rather be the favored team than the underdog, but I feel like our team has really come together the last two weeks,” senior right back defender Victoria Stringer said. “It has really given everybody on the team that drive to play harder and to work harder. I haven’t seen us work any harder. We really want so badly to prove everyone wrong.”
There’s the preparation, the motivation and then what it’s going to take to pull off the upset.
“We know we have to be really solid on defense and when we get a chance to score, we’ve got to put it in the net,” senior defensive center mid Gabby Miller said. “We’ve really been working on that.
“After playing them last year, we kind of know their style of play. We know what it’s going to take to beat them. (On defense) We can’t afford to make a mistake.”
STM fell to Ben Franklin 2-0 in last year’s state final. This year, Ben Franklin ended up as a No. 3 seed and so the two powerhouses are meeting in the semifinals instead.
“They’re a two-time state champion,” STM coach Daniel Underwood said. “That’s all you really need to know. This is a special group. I think they have six Division I signees.
“They just do everything so efficiently. I’ve heard people say that they don’t play hard all the time. I think it looks that way, because when you do everything right, you don’t have to expend a lot of energy.”
Underwood said he doesn’t buy the theory that there’s no pressure on his girls as the big underdogs. On the other hand, Ben Franklin has been dealing with the pressure of trying to remain undefeated for the third straight season.
But instead of focusing too much on the motivation levels, the Lady Cougars are purely focused on the matchup.
While Ben Franklin has won 6-1, 8-1 and 5-1 so far to reach the semifinals, STM has tossed three straight shutouts – 2-0, 7-0 and 1-0.
“We’re a very defensive team, which works out because they’re a very offensive team,” Stringer said.
Very, very offensive.
Leading the way in that effort is LSU signee Alex Thomas, who is currently on a streak with a hat trick in each of the three state playoff games, including in the 5-1 quarterfinal win over Teurlings Catholic.
“She’s a very special player,” Underwood said. “It’s one of those games where you just can’t have a bad moment, or they’re going to make you pay.”
An historic upset would indeed be a fitting ending to a unique senior season for Miller, Stringer and the rest of the squad.
“To finish out my career in the state finals again and beating an undefeated team would be great,” Miller said.
Especially in a season that began with questions marks with Underwood as a first-year coach.
“It’s been an interesting season,” Stringer said. “It was one of the first times he’s ever coached girls, so it took a week or so for us to get comfortable with him, but he’s worked very well with us. He’s worked with us on our strengths. He’s worked with us on our weaknesses. And he’s made the game fun.
“It’s been one of my most fun seasons as a player. I think all the girls now feel like he’s coached us before.”
Soccer Semifinals Glance
Mandeville at St. Paul’s
Jesuit at Acadiana, 4 p.m., Saturday
Beau Chene at Vandebilt, 6 p.m., Saturday
Ben Franklin at Bolton, 3 p.m., Friday
Newman at St. Louis, 5 p.m., Friday
Northlake Christian at University, 6:30 p.m., Saturday
Mandeville at Mount Carmel, 5 p.m., Friday
St. Scholastica at Dominican, 5 p.m., Friday, at Pan American
Lakeshore at Loyola Prep
Ben Franklin at St. Thomas More, 6 p.m., Friday
Pope John Paul at St. Thomas Aquinas, 3 p.m., Thursday
Sacred Heart-NO at University, 5 p.m., Friday
Prior to Friday’s 6 p.m. Division II state semifinals girls game vs. Ben Franklin, there will be tailgating offered between 4 and 5:30 p.m. at the stadium for STM students, featuring music, free fish tacos from Taco Sisters food truck for students.
Admission to the game is $4 for students and $7 for adults.