LAFAYETTE — When St. Thomas More faces Ben Franklin in the LHSAA girls soccer semifinals Friday, it’ll be facing a familiar foe in more than ways than one.
Not only will it be facing the same team that beat them 2-0 in last year’s Division II final, they’ll be facing a core of six girls who play club ball with one of their teammates, junior Amelia Thibodeaux.
“They took a state championship away from us last year,” said STM coach Daniel Underwood. “They have six girls that have all signed Division I letters of intent. Amelia plays with all six of those girls. There is a lot of familiarity there.”
Thibodeaux, whose club team Chicago Fire Juniors Louisiana is based in New Orleans, said the chance to play so many of her club teammates in the playoffs is an exciting opportunity.
“I play with them, and I know what they’re like,” Thibodeaux said. “I think they are going to be really competitive, and it’ll bring a new feeling to the game. It’s going to be exciting, and we’re all going to be a little more pumped up.”
Thibodeaux got hooked up with the New Orleans-area satellite team for the MLS’ Chicago Fire through her years in Olympic Development. She said she became friendly with the core of that team and decided it was in her best interests to pursue a roster spot with the highly touted club.
“I talked to them and played with them and the opportunity came,” she said. “What it offered, it seemed like the right thing to do with me for my future development.”
Thibodeaux is an underclassman, but Underwood said she has no trouble leading on the field. Underwood said she is rarely off the field, something he said gives them great stability in the backfield.
“She has been our rock-solid center back this year,” Underwood said. “She works hard at practice and leads by example. She had a tremendous slide tackle in the box that saved a goal (in the quarterfinals) against E.D. White.
“There hasn’t been a critical moment where we haven’t had her on the field. We know when she is on the field, we have someone on the defensive side that helps us win games.”
Thibodeaux said this year — the team’s first under Underwood — gave the team a new beginning and a fresh start they could build on.
“We’ve really grown,” she said. “Coming (in) with a new coach brought the team together, and we built up better than we did last year. It brought the opportunity that this is a new year and a new us.”
Thibodeaux said the team has done a good job of keeping the magnitude of Friday’s game in perspective. With her not being from New Orleans and traveling to play with her club team, she said that alone gives her a heightened motivation.
“We go out there with the mindset that we’re just there to play soccer,” Thibodeaux said. “They’re going to play their game, and we are going to play ours. I like to think we’ll be supporting Lafayette a little better. It puts more weight on my shoulders and our shoulders as a team, but we like that. We’re not just holding STM. We are holding Lafayette.”