NEW ORLEANS — Ben Franklin High School celebrated Saturday afternoon’s Division II girls soccer title as a team — one team.
Twenty-four girls in green.
Moments after this 2-0 victory over Vandebilt Catholic, the undefeated Falcons gathered near the middle of the field at Tad Gormley Stadium, hugging and screaming, pointing to family and classmates in the stands before adding more hugs.
The championship moment marked their transformation from two huddles — five club soccer teammates and the rest of the Falcons — to a cohesive unit which trusted each other, knew how to play with one another, and away from the sport enjoyed hanging out.
No easy task against top-seeded Vandebilt Catholic of Houma, which has played in six consecutive state finals.
“As the year went on, we became such a family,” said Falcons senior Audrey Peterson, who transferred to Franklin from Wisconsin before her sophomore season. Peterson scored Franklin’s first goal Saturday, a shot in the 42nd minute.
Later, teammate Alex Thomas, one of Franklin’s fantastic freshmen, scored her 44th goal of the season in the 51st minute, dribbling around Vandebilt’s defense to extend her school record for goals.
Coach Jose Ferrand found the right combination to showcase Franklin’s strengths and protect their weaknesses. To do this, Ferrand compiled a schedule which was less daunting than other programs still alive in the playoffs in February, but one that allowed him to mix and match various lineups earlier this season.
“That takes two months, I believe,” Ferrand said. “In January, when we hit the district schedule, everything started clicking, everything started meshing.”
Thomas said Franklin’s win at Cabrini in January served as an example of what the Falcons (20-0) could accomplish when they played together, not just with their club soccer teammates.
“We already knew how to play with each other, which probably led to some of the separation of the team because we would pass it each other,” Thomas said. “When we finally started playing with the rest of the team, we dominated. We said that’s how we wanted to play every time.”
To overcome Vandebilt (26-3-1) the Falcons focused on defense and counter-attacks, led by Thomas.
While Franklin struggled during the opening minutes, a 45-minute weather delay gave the Falcons an opportunity to regroup. Vandebilt had opportunities, but goalie Katrina Seal earned the shutout.
Vandebilt, which last won a state title in 2009, graduates nine seniors.
“Four years ago, I think we lost 11 seniors,” Lady Terriers coach Philip Amedee said. “That’s when this little group stepped in.”
They returned Vandebilt to the Division II finals, but were unable to overcome the third-seeded Falcons.
During the final seconds, Cadie Higginson, who suffered a torn ACL before the high school season, logged her only playing time of the season.
Div. II boys
ST. LOUIS CATHOLIC 3, BEAU CHENE 0: The Saints won their fourth consecutive championship with two first-half goals from Will Solari, who earned Most Valuable Player honors. Teammate Mac Thompson added a score in the second half.