The path to the National Premier League final for two girls soccer teams from the Baton Rouge Soccer Club has been nearly the same.
The two teams — U13 and U15 — had to brush aside the disappointment of State Cup runners-up finishes and scale the tallest mountain in the Gulf States Premier League, one that had proven tough to conquer earlier in the season.
Faced with the potential end of their seasons at different junctures this spring, both teams responded with upsets of the No. 1 seeded team to win the GSPL regional event, qualifying them to compete in this week’s NPL Finals in Westfield, Indiana.
“I think everyone’s excited about it,” U15 forward Megan Johnson said. “It’s going to be something different (to) play people from all across the country. It’s going to be a different level of soccer.”
Both teams, coached by Willie Davis of The Dunham School, depart for the suburb of Indianapolis on Tuesday with opening ceremonies set Wednesday at Grand Park.
Pool play begins for the 13s on Thursday with a match against STA from Morristown, New Jersey, at 3 p.m. with the 15s scheduled to open a day later at 9 a.m. with New England Futbol Club Elite from the Boston area.
Pool play in the 12-team tournament consists of three games followed by the semifinal round Sunday and the championship matches Monday.
Davis said BRSC had previously sent three teams to the national event, including a U16 girls group last year, but never multiple teams in the same year.
“The excitement’s there for both teams,” Davis said. “They’re pumped to represent their club and themselves in this tournament. We’re looking for it.”
Both teams followed nearly identical paths to reach one of soccer’s national stages.
The 13s advanced to its State Cup final with a 2-0-1 showing in pool play and defeated Mandeville 1-0 in the semifinals before falling to Pearl River 1-0 in the championship.
They were able to atone for that setback during the GSPL postseason tournament, avenging an earlier 4-0 loss to No. 1 Mississippi Rush of Jackson with a 1-0 semifinal victory on Naylie Rodriguez’s goal, en route to 1-0 win over La. Fire of New Orleans in the final.
“We’re so excited to have made it this far,” said 13s forward Raghan Walker, who scored the goal against the La. Fire. “Now we’re trying to go out and win it for our state.”
Davis’ 15s worked in reverse, remedying a three-match losing streak brought on, in part, by the loss of starting goalie Mia Minor because of a series of concussions. They were able to add goalie Amanda Hilliard of Baton Rouge High the day before the roster-freeze deadline and took off.
The 15s punched their ticket for nationals by avenging a 3-1 loss to the Mississippi Rush with a 3-0 semifinal victory followed by a 1-0 win over Mandeville in the final.
With newfound momentum, the 15s came up just short in their pursuit of a state championship, though, taking a 2-1 win over the La. Fire before dropping a 2-0 decision to Mandeville in the title match.
“She’s come in and shored us up a bit, given the girls more confidence,” Davis said of Hilliard. “She stepped into a situation she wasn’t sure of and has done really well for us.”
Johnson, who scored more than 20 goals in her freshman season at St. Joseph’s Academy, teams with Lorelei Gaffney to apply pressure to opposing defenses. The 15s also have Delaney Smith, Anna Leigh Shaffett and Olivia Labarre, who were all part of University High’s Division III state championship team.
Walker has been the top goal-scorer for the 13s, who also rely on Mya Guillory and Rodriguez for offensive punch. Baylie Fournet and Jordan Mathis have split time at goalie this season.
“I think we’re in a good place going into nationals,” 13s defender Victoria Labarre said. “I think we’ve all been watching how we taken care ourselves and have been working toward this event for a while. I’m pretty confident going into it.”