Some might call it fortunate, but it was perhaps fitting when LSU freshman Shannon Cooke ruffled the net with a top bins shot from 40 yards to help propel the Tigers to their first SEC soccer tournament title and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
It may not quite measure up to Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return, but it’s clearly the most famous shot in LSU soccer lore, landing at No. 4 on ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the day. More than that, it may be signaling a breakthrough for the program.
“It was a little bit of good fortune,” LSU coach Brian Lee admitted. “We always talk about how you have to deserve to win, you have to do all the right things to have fortune break your way. It was something we were due for. In the second half of the Arkansas game, we played really well for it to be the fifth game in 11 days. To put forth that kind of energy and effort was a positive sign of our team culture.”
The No. 19 Tigers (13-6-3) get a chance to carry that culture another step further Sunday when they play host to Boston University (11-7-3) in a first round NCAA tournament match at 1 p.m. at the LSU Soccer Complex.
In his 14th season, Lee has used a large body of youthful talent with a dash of senior leadership to make a resounding entrance into the tournament, rather than slipping in quietly. Cooke’s goal tied the match, which went into double overtime. LSU advanced on penalty kicks (4-1) to cement their first tournament berth since 2015, sixth overall and third as host.
LSU is 2-4-1 all time in the tournament. Boston is making its 14th tournament appearance with a 5-13 record.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” sophomore right back and assist leader Tiyana Alexander said. “We’ve really improved since last season. It prepared us for that final game. Everyone was tired, and we performed so well.”
LSU advanced through four conference tournament games in eight days, twice on penalty kicks and 413 minutes played overall. That effort tips to the team slogan “32 Strong” for contributions from top to bottom.
Leading the way is a trio of seniors including goalie Caroline Brockmeier, forward Alex Thomas and midfielder Chrissy Pitre. Brockmeier was the SEC tournament MVP and national player of the week with 12 saves, three coming on penalty kicks. She’s second all-time at LSU with 23 shutouts and 277 saves.
Thomas, a New Orleans native, is the leading scorer with seven goals and six assists while Pitre is a three-year letter winner with 38 career starts.
“A good portion of our playing rotation are freshmen and sophomores,” Lee said. “On the flip, we’re getting great leadership from our three seniors. The big thing with Caroline is her off-the-field impact has been much bigger than on the field.”
Lee said the season broke better after a 4-1 loss at Florida where LSU “played well for 70 minutes but for 20 we just tanked.” In the 11 games since, the Tigers have lost twice (Tennessee, Arkansas) and avenged both in the SEC tournament.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said Brockmeier, who transferred from Florida State three years ago. “Me and the other seniors we do the right things, talk to the team and have open communication. The team is young but mature in the sense of knowing what to do and when to get it done. So, it’s fairly easy (to lead).”