NEW ORLEANS — There’s something vaguely familiar about Friday’s girls high school soccer semifinals.
OK, a little more than just “vaguely.” Make that “nearly freakily.”
For the fourth year in a row, St. Scholastica and Mount Carmel will meet in the state Division I final four, this time in a blockbuster semifinal between top-seeded Scholastica and No. 4 seed Mount Carmel at 5 p.m. Friday at Joe Yenni Stadium.
The two teams’ annual deep playoff runs began in 2010, when St. Scholastica edged the Cubs 5-4 in the state finals. The following year, the Doves again conquered Mount Carmel, that time with a 2-1 victory in the semis. But in 2012, the Cubs finally earned revenge when they nipped the Doves, 2-1, in the final, making Mount Carmel the defending state champ this year.
With that kind of history, you might expect the two programs to harbor deep-seated resentment for each other. However, said St. Scholastica coach Mike Ortner, you’d be wrong.
“We’ve got a deep respect for each other,” Ortner said, adding that he and Mount Carmel coach Pavlos Petrou are close friends. “We have as much respect for them just like they have respect for us.”
But Ortner acknowledged just because there’s respect doesn’t mean there’s not a rivalry. And his Doves will certainly be out to reverse the result of last year’s state finals.
“To say that we’re familiar with each other ...” Ortner said of the two teams before trailing off with a telling laugh.
Still, Ortner said that Friday, the slates will also be wiped clean in a way, because each team looks different from their 2012 editions, a fact that, at least for the Doves, means that vengeance won’t be a focus Friday.
“It’s a different team and a different group,” Ortner said of the Cubs, “so there won’t be a revenge factor. But we can be focused on this year, because if you focus on revenge, you’re focusing on the wrong things.
“Last year was last year, and this year is this year,” he added. “All I can say is that we’re ready.”
The winner of Friday’s marquee matchup will face either No. 2 seed Lafayette or third-seeded Fontainebleau, another area program that’s familiar with the upper echelons of the state tournament. The Bulldogs have advanced to at least the quarterfinals nine out of the past 10 seasons, beginning with a state crown in 2004. In four of those years, Fontainebleau ultimately lost to either — guess who — the Doves or the Cubs.
But the Cubs, Doves and ’Dogs aren’t the only NOLA-area teams that are making a return to the state playoff final four. In Division III, second-seeded Academy of the Sacred Heart faces No. 3 seed University Lab as well Friday. ASH is making its eighth straight berth in the state final, a run that includes winning the past three crowns.
However, such traditional local powers aren’t alone in their advancement in the state playoffs. In Division II, final four newcomer Ben Franklin carries its No. 3 seed against No. 2 seed Teurlings Catholic in a semifinal Friday. The Falcons are working on grooming a state-power pedigree of their own; last year they advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to St. Louis.
Of all the local teams in Friday’s semis, Franklin, at least on paper, has the most impressive 2012-13 résumé. The Falcons enter their match 18-0-0, including three wins over division rival and local power Lakeshore, triumphs that helped Franklin unseat Lakeshore as the District 7 titlist.
But even with those accomplishments, the Falcons have struggled to earn respect, especially taking hits to their image from a supposedly light regular-season schedule.
Franklin coach Jose Ferrand said, however, that his squad enters its clash with Teurlings focused on earning not respect, but simply a berth in the state final. That will be a challenge however, especially given that the contest is at Teurlings.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, going to their place and getting a win, ” Ferrand said. “But our girls have been working hard, they’re focused, and they’re hungry for a state championship. We know what people are saying about our schedule,” he added. “But we’re going one game at a time. We’re not focused on where we’re seeded or whatever. The team is playing to its abilities, and we’re focused on the playoffs, not the regular season.”