Strong team unity and a midseason alignment change are two reasons Episcopal will play in the boys state soccer finals for the first time.
Winners of 15 straight games, second-seeded Episcopal (21-6-1) battles top-seeded Newman (19-1-3) for the Division III title at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans.
Newman has won seven state titles, including 2009 and 2010. Episcopal is seeking to become the first boys state champion from Baton Rouge since Parkview Baptist in 2000.
Episcopal features three sets of brothers. Included in that group is forward William James, the lone senior starter, and junior defender Carter James.
Other brother combos are juniors Erol and Tamer Knaus and sophomores Connor and Justin Rogstad. Ten juniors start and several of those players began their soccer careers together while in kindergarten.
“We’re a very close team on and off the field,” William James said. “Since my brother Carter is in their grade, I feel like all the juniors are brothers to me. We have so many scoring threats, so the other team can’t concentrate on just one player.”
The Knights have outscored foes 106-25 with 13 shutouts. EHS has five players with nine or more goals and four players with 10 or more assists.
Adam Clausen, a 6-foot-4 junior, made the move to center striker from defensive midfielder a few games before midseason. This shift allowed EHS to switch from a 4-4-2 attack to a 4-3-3 with three midfielders and three forwards. Clausen (25 goals, 10 assists) is a force in the middle, while James (12 goals) and Clement Mubungirwa (15 goals) attack from the outside.
“Clement and I stay wide, and Adam does his thing in the middle,” William James said. “Moving Adam up top has given us all more opportunities.”
Carter James handles long throw-ins, and Clausen is a frequent target.
“I’ve learned to use my height as an advantage,” Clausen said. “It’s fun making a run at the ball on throw-ins or corner kicks. All the forwards make runs and help each other out. We’re all looking to pass.”
“Adam has a midfield mentality at forward,” Episcopal coach Chris Stewart said. “He can shoot the ball and is a playmaker up top. He’s very composed yet quick with the ball. The alignment change gives us more players in the box, and our midfielders had to change their passing angles.”
Juniors Austin Couvillion (16 goals, 10 assists), Cody Mitchell (nine goals, 21 assists) and Lance Lamotte (five goals) are the midfielders. Couvillion scored two goals in Episcopal’s 3-1 semifinal victory over Parkview Baptist.
“We can attack a team from multiple ways,” said Couvillion, a team captain along with William James.
“There’s not just one guy to shut down. Adam Clausen is real technical and he’s big. Will and Clement are fast up top and add threats from the outside and on crossings. We’re excited about this opportunity. We’ve been playing together for so long, and we’re really close.”
“It’s an honor to be on the first Episcopal boys team to make the finals,” William James said. “We’re not satisfied with just making the finals. We want to go in there and win it and come back with the title.”