It’s easy to forget how difficult it is to do this year in and year out because the St. Thomas More girls soccer program makes state final appearances look so easy.
But Cougars coach Daniel Underwood is quick to remind that winning at this level on such a consistent basis is difficult. It’s not just the state championship trips, which, after top-seeded STM’s 2-0 victory against fifth-seeded Central Lafourche in Friday’s Division II semifinals, the Cougars will have done four times in six years. It’s also the amount of times they’ve even had an opportunity to do it. STM has reached the semifinals in each of the past six seasons, including all five years Underwood has been in charge.
Not to mention, the defending-champion Cougars (14-3-3) have been the No. 1 seed in the Division II playoffs the past three years. Especially this year, when STM put together one of the best regular seasons in Underwood’s tenure, getting back to state final is special to the coach and his club.
“It takes a whole lot of sacrifice, especially on these girls’ parts,” Underwood said. “A lot of people don’t see the hours and hours of training and work they put in to achieve this, so it’s great to see them rewarded for their efforts.”
What made this semifinal victory even more satisfying, a rematch of last year’s Division II title game, was the Cougars stemmed any extra motivation the Trojans may have been playing with early. The Cougars scored three minutes in when senior Maddie Moreau found Peyton St. Pierre.
“That’s our favorite way to score,” said Moreau, an LSU signee. “That’s what we always do.”
Scoring early is always ideal, but against a team playing with revenge and upset on its mind, it was even more critical for the Cougars.
“The relief was just insane to get in early because that’s what we were trying to do — score early,” Moreau said. “Once we got that goal, it was just like, ‘OK, we can breathe.’ ”
“It was burden taken off of us,” St. Pierre added.
For Underwood, seeing St. Pierre put the early opportunity away was gratifying because of the work she’s put in to get that chance. She emerged as a starter late last season and assisted on STM’s lone goal in last year’s state final, the program’s first title in a decade. St. Pierre is in her first year as a full-time starter.
“The girl has just put so much training on her own to contribute to this team,” Underwood said of his attacking midfielder. “To see her score in semifinal game ... I couldn’t think of a more deserving senior or a more deserving player to get that go-ahead goal for us.”
Moreau did what she does best eight minutes later, adding STM’s second and final goal. Goals from one of the area’s best players are nothing new, but this was the final time she was doing it on her home field. Underwood made sure to remind her and the other seniors of that before the game.
“That was one thing I kind of whispered to them before the game: ‘Take it all in,’ Underwood said. “Because this is the last game we’ll be playing here at STM. Sometimes I relate to the Duke (basketball) players. You think they’ve been there for like eight years. Maddie’s been a starter for us for four years. So, yes, it will be kind of bittersweet to see her move to the next level, but we’re happy she’s just going down the road a little ways.”
Now the Lady Cougars will try for a repeat at 5 p.m. Thursday at UL-Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns Soccer/Track Complex, but they’ll have to beat a nemesis to do it. Second-seeded Lakeshore — the same team that beat the Cougars in the 2016 semifinals and the 2017 finals, both of which were decided by a shootout — awaits.
“It’s the one we wanted,” Underwood said of Lakeshore. “We wanted it last year, so game on. But it’s not going to change our approach to anything. All season long, we’ve just been focused on getting a little bit better. That’s really what it’s about at this level — just developing your players and focusing on the right things. Winning comes when you do those things, when you develop the players and, really, develop the team. I think that’s the special thing we have this year that has been built throughout the years. We have a great team spirit, and it’s something special.”
“It will be a revenge match, definitely,” Moreau added.