A new generation of Byrd soccer fans and players will finally experience a state championship Saturday in New Orleans.
Since the program’s inception in 1993, the Lady Jackets have always found success, including 17 district titles and 10 trips to the state quarterfinals. But only once before this season did Byrd reach the ultimate match, when it beat Comeaux 3-2 to take home the trophy in 1996.
Several members of that team returned to their alma mater last Friday to be recognized at an athletic event for the first time since their remarkable accomplishment. Lauren Carpenter said they’d mostly moved on and hadn’t thought about it much, but the emotions came rushing back and Carpenter’s sister, Erin, likely wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes as they watched Byrd beat St. Scholastica 4-3 on penalty kicks to advance.
“That’s what’s cool about this,” Lauren Carpenter said. “It’s bringing it all back for us.”
“Seeing all the teammates run onto the field and tackle each other, that’s when I got really emotional,” Erin added.
The two former central midfielders joined Christine and Bridget Brooks, another dynamic sister duo from the 1995-96 team, on Wednesday afternoon to reminisce and look forward to Saturday’s final. All except Erin will travel down to New Orleans, and former teammate Kelly Badgley will fly in from Pasadena, Calif. to watch a group of players not so different from their high school selves.
Clearly, state championship teams need talent, and seven college players in the 1995-96 lineup prove Byrd had more than enough. But it also took a special bond created through years of club soccer, at a time when it wasn’t as easy for women to find competitive teams.
Upperclassmen such as junior Christine and senior Erin joined The Red Brigade, while freshman such as Bridget, Lauren and Kelly Badgley excelled for The Shooting Stars, who Erin called the best club team in Shreveport’s history. Badgley remembers winning a state club title and practicing often against The Red Brigade, all of which formed friendships that remain strong today.
Current senior midfielder Robinson Humphrey, whose cousin Cat Humphrey also starts for the Lady Jackets, said a similar story unfolded through Shreveport United. The city’s premier club cultivated a strong camaraderie and chemistry evident on the field.
“There’s no tension on this team,” Robinson said after practice Wednesday. “We are all best friends. We are all sisters and it’s really just so amazing.”
Coach Lisa Levermann said the relaxed, silly way the 1996 team would act before used to drive her crazy and draw attention from other opponents. But she learned that personality never stopped them from getting serious on the field, so these days she just laughs and shakes her head along with everyone else.
This year’s team doesn’t seem much different, except perhaps for the face that it can share its pictures and videos of pregame antics on social media. Both groups have enjoyed jamming out to music, and the 1996 players especially remember singing along to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
“We were always the underdogs,” Badgley recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. “They said that when we won it was a fluke.”
Byrd went 18-3-1 and many of its players had excelled at the club level, but Byrd principal Gerald Badgley, Kelly’s father and the softball coach in 1996, said many believed it still couldn’t match up against the best teams from south Louisiana. A stunning 3-2 win at favorite Lafayette on Erin’s overtime goal began to change those perceptions and convinced the Lady Jackets they could go all the way.
A 26-1-1 mark against an ambitious schedule left no doubt Byrd could end North Louisiana’s 20-year girls state title drought and earned it the No. 1 seed. But even though the Lady Jackets took the opposite route of the 1996 team and played at home through their first three games, they still kept a chip on their shoulder in wins over Fontainebleau and especially two-time defending champ St. Scholastica.
“We can make people from down south know North Louisiana, we don’t mess around up here,” Robinson Humphrey said. “It’s for real.”
Although the formation and some strategy may have changed, the essentials of the formula remain the same. Both teams were anchored by strong back lines and outstanding goalkeepers, although Maddy Talbot won’t have to deal with the serious health concern Meg Frazier faced in 1996.
She injured her knee in a basketball game following the win at Lafayette, which forced her to miss a 1-0 semifinal win over Archbishop Chappelle. But Levermann said Frazier made such a difference they let her play one week after surgery, and she even battled through the wound opening up in the middle of the match.
“I still talk about it,” Levermann said. “I had an administrator come and say, ‘you’ve got to get her off’ and Meg’s like ‘No, no, I’m good.’ She just kind of cinched it back up with the bandage to make sure that the ref couldn’t see.”
Veteran defenders Christine Brooks and senior Nichol Roll made Frazier’s job easier, and freshmen Lauren Carpenter, Bridget Brooks and Badgley all scored. This year’s Lady Jackets don’t have any freshmen starters, but they’re still young with just three seniors and a backline featuring juniors Emma Wagner and Maggie Weldon, plus sophomore Eva Paul.
Dominant forwards provide the majority of the offense, from 48 combined goals for All-State junior Kristen Kot and Brooks in 1996 to 71 for seniors Kyra Montes and Hope Miletello. Brooks and her teammates quickly recognized many of her unique talents in watching Miletello last week.
“Bridget has a little bit bigger foot,” said Levermann, who has been with the program since it began. “She would just catch it and then she was gone, but yeah, (Hope) looks a lot like Bridget and the teams play her a lot like Bridget, too.”
Miletello and Montes can both expect to see a lot of attention from Mt. Carmel, a well-coached, defensive team that has given up one goal in its last 15 matches, including three 1-0 wins in the playoffs. That makes it hard to imagine Byrd will jump out to a 3-0 lead like it did in front of a huge home crowd 20 years ago.
But if it does, don’t look for Levermann to empty her bench. That plan nearly turned into disaster when Comeaux scored two late goals and put heavy pressure on Frazier.
“I remember having my heart drop a little bit and being a little bit nervous,” said Erin, who recalled being one of the few starters left in the game. “But I can understand as a coach, she was just trying to get everybody’s feet on the field.”
It’s one of many lessons Levermann learned as the leader of Byrd soccer for all 23 years of its existence. Christine Brooks said Levermann is “like a sister to us,” and her dedication to the program isn’t lost on her players, whether past or present.
“I’m so happy for her,” Talbot said following the win over St. Scholastica. “She’s worked hard 20-something years. She deserves (another) state championship and I think we’re the team to get it there.”
1996 Starting XI 2016 Starting XI
GK Megan Frazier GK Maddy Talbot
D Christine Brooks D Maggie Weldon
D Nichol Rolle D Emma Wagner
D Leigh McGovern D Eva Paul
D Kelly Badgley MF Cat Humphrey
MF Shanna Martin MF Taylor Arnold
MF Erin Carpenter MF Robinson Humphrey
MF Lauren Carpenter MF Allie Cannon
MF Amy Triplett MF Sarah Tamplin
F Kristin Kot F Hope Miletello
F Bridget Brooks F Kyra Montes