There’s no history between the University High and Pope John Paul II girls soccer programs.
Since 2009 when U-High coach Melissa Ramsey took the helm of the Cubs, the perennial Division III powers have never met. That will change Thursday.
Second-seeded U-High (22-1-3) and No. 8 Pope John Paul II (14-4-5) will have plenty to remember after meeting for the first time in the Division III final at the AllState Sugar BowlLHSAA State Soccer Championships at 5 p.m. at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans.
“It’s nice that it doesn’t have that history behind it,” Ramsey said. “I have seen (Pope John Paul II) play, my assistant has seen them play, so we know about them and it’s not like we’re going into it blind, but it’s nice to not have any history and just put our cards on the table and go after it.”
One issue for U-High is the lack of title-game experience. UHS is making its first title-game appearance since winning the Division II title in 1998. The Cubs’ 2-1 overtime win over Sacred Heart on Friday was only the third time in Ramsey’s tenure they’ve reached the semifinals. Pope John Paul II is the defending Division III champion.
Ramsey said one of her main jobs as a coach this week is to make sure her players don’t get caught up in the game’s magnitude. Of course, that’s easier said than done when players have little experience with their opponent.
“I just don’t know how to feel about (Pope John Paul II),” U-High goalkeeper Elizabeth Bankhead said. “I’ve never played them in my four years of playing high school ball and we have no video of them, so it’s kind of hard to tell what we’re going to do or how we’re going to play.”
U-High junior forward and leading scorer Jessica Shelby said the key to the game is to keep executing the same way they have to get to the title game.
The Cubs have also survived several close calls this postseason.
Despite being the higher seed, U-High had a tougher road to the final than Pope John Paul II thanks to several upsets in the top half of the bracket. The Cubs have played two teams in the top 10, while the Jaguars’ 6-1 win over No. 9 Opelousas Catholic in the regional round has been its toughest playoff game.
But Pope John Paul II has done the best it can with the games given, outscoring opponents 19-1 through four games on the backs of standout forwards — and sisters — senior Christina Cutura and sophomore Marlena Cutura.
“They’re both dynamic with the ball, both very good in the air, both of them serve very good balls, speed — basically, they’re true forwards who just want to score,” Ramsey said. “If they don’t have the ball, they can’t score.”
The job of stopping the Cuturas falls on the shoulders of Bankhead and the Cubs defense who, before Sacred Heart’s goal in the semifinals, had not allowed a score since tying Lakeshore 1-1 on Dec. 6, recording 16 consecutive clean sheets.
Bankhead accumulated 43 saves while only allowing six balls past her this season. Sacred Heart is the only Division III team to score on Bankhead all season.
“That has a lot to do with my defenders,” Bankhead said. “They play a very big role in keeping the ball away from the goal and helping me keep that title of one goal this postseason.
“I’m not too worried about it because I have excellent defenders who are going to know what to do with (Christina Cutura) when the time comes. If she take a weird one-touch, we can handle it.”