NEW ORLEANS — Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the opponent.
Wednesday evening at Tad Gormley Stadium, there weren’t many tears from Loyola College Prep’s girls soccer team, even though the dream of bringing the school its first girls soccer state championship was dashed with a goal by Vandebilt Catholic late in the first overtime of the Division III title game.
The final horn signaled the end of 100 minutes of drama. The ensuing reaction from a bunch of teenage girls in Flyers blue was as surprising as it was impressive. There was a smattering of sadness, but as a whole, the Flyers hugged, laughed and applauded the efforts of the Lady Terriers – and themselves.
Both teams were deserving of the praise.
“What else can I ask for?” Loyola head coach Mark Matlock said. “My girls fought to the end.”
There was no obvious mistake or goat in the 2-1 defeat – the Flyers were simply on the wrong end of an amazing individual effort by Grace Champagne.
Champagne’s dagger with 3:30 left in overtime was the result of a nifty move around a Loyola defender near the edge of the box deep down the right side of the field. Champagne then unleashed a right-footed strike into the top left corner of the net to help her team repeat as state champions.
“I’m so proud of my girls – the seniors that have fought so hard,” Matlock said. “This is the way you should end the game – with smiles on your face and no regrets, knowing you left everything on the field.”
The loss spoiled a gutsy effort from the Flyers, who allowed a goal 90 seconds into the match – the first of two highlight-reel tallies for Vandebilt Catholic.
Molly Thompson’s 30-yard rainbow snuck just under the bar and rocked the Flyers.
“Those are two of the best goals I’ve seen all season,” Matlock said. “There was no chance for the goalkeeper to make a play.”
Vanderbilt Catholic capitalized on the momentum and took advantage of the Flyers for the next 15 minutes or so, but Loyola and goalkeeper Mary Kathryn Smith prevented further damage.
“We played our hardest,” Loyola senior Shannon Anderson said. “Our team held it together; we knew we’d get back in the game.”
Anderson showed her right leg is magical, too, as she scored on a 25-yard free kick late in the first half.
“She has ice in her veins, nerves of steel,” Matlock said. “She got us back in the game.”
Smith claimed she was “really nervous” before Wednesday’s finale, but she certainly didn’t play like it. Constant pressure applied by Thompson and Champagne produced several quality scoring chances Wednesday, but they were often stymied by Loyola’s sophomore who played much bigger than her frame.
“She got everything she should have and had a chance to get,” Matlock said. “Positionally, she was fantastic. There were just two quality goals she couldn’t get to.”
Loyola (21-7-3) came up short in its effort to exact some revenge on the Lady Terriers (25-4-3). Vanderbilt Catholic eliminated the Flyers in the Division III semifinals last year and scored a regular-season victory in November.
“I knew we’d see them again,” Matlock said.
Wednesday’s result may have been more of the same, but there was no shame in walking off with a runner-up trophy on this occasion.
“I knew we were going to be able to walk off the field with our heads up,” Matlock said. “It shows the class of our players and the parents. We applauded the winners, we’re proud of our effort and we hope to be back next year.”
The odds are pretty good. Wednesday was Loyola’s third trip to the championship match in five years. Anderson, a senior, won’t be back next year, but she managed to mask watery eyes with a big smile when the clock ran out on her high school career.
“We worked together, were unlucky they scored so late, but I’m proud. This is the best we could ask for,” Anderson said. “I’ll miss the family atmosphere and the friendships we created. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to go out with.”