All-stars Bottin, McDaniel lead St. Al into soccer title game

Published 9:24 am Monday, October 12, 2015

This week will be one of the last that Sara McDaniel and Shelby Bottin spend as teammates on the soccer field. It’ll also be one of the biggest.

On Wednesday afternoon, the two St. Aloysius seniors will play in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools All-Star game at Jackson Prep. If things go well, that’ll be about 48 hours after they walk out of Balzli Field holding a state championship trophy and smiling the biggest smile they’ve ever smiled.

McDaniel, a midfielder, and the defender Bottin will lead undefeated St. Al (13-0) against Hartfield Academy in the MAIS Division III girls championship game Monday at 5 p.m. It’s the first time St. Al has ever played in a state championship game and, hopefully, a memorable way for its seniors to cap off a stellar season and career.

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“It’ll be a great way to end senior year,” Bottin said.

McDaniel and Bottin are both captains for St. Al, and each has spearheaded a remarkable season on their respective sides of the field.

McDaniel is the team’s offensive engine, with 24 goals and 26 assists while controlling the flow of the game in the center of the pitch. Bottin has 12 goals and five assists, and has anchored a defensive line that’s posted seven shutouts in 13 games and allowed a total of 10 goals all season.

Bottin said their years of playing together allow them to communicate well and steer their teammates in the right direction.

“We’ve been playing together since about 4 years old, so we know each other pretty well. So it’s good,” Bottin said. “Me being on defense, her being on offense, we can connect well together.”

While the two players control different parts of the game, St. Al coach Scott Mathis said they share similar traits that make them among the best at their jobs.

“There’s nothing I can say about them that hasn’t been said before,” Mathis said. “Soccer is their life. They’ve lived it their whole lives. It’s tough to find somebody as dedicated to the game these days. They’re just tremendous players. They don’t have attitudes. They do what they’re supposed to do, and they lead.”

Bottin has scored 24 goals over the past three seasons, but her accomplishments are often measured in terms of the team’s success — number of shutouts, goals allowed, shots on goal allowed, for example — while McDaniel’s are easier to see.

McDaniel scored 12 goals as a sophomore and seven last season, when St. Al was a member of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, before emerging as one of the best goal-scorers in the MAIS. She’s averaged two goals per game and has had several hat tricks. She has three goals and an assist in St. Al’s two playoff wins, including two goals in a 3-1 semifinal victory over Starkville Academy.

The all-star nod is a nice recognition, she said, of her individual season.

“It’s awesome to be one of the best. My coaches, family, I don’t know where I’d be without them,” McDaniel said. “It’s a big recognition.”

As appreciative as they are of their impending all-star appearance, however, McDaniel, Bottin and the rest of the Lady Flashes would much rather win on Monday.

When St. Al was in the MHSAA, it was often stuck behind powerful programs Madison-St. Joseph and St. Andrews in its own division and rarely made the playoffs, when only two teams from each division advanced to the postseaosn.

It did reach the Class 1A-2A-3A semifinals twice when the division lineups were shuffled, but typically had the unfortunate reputation as one of the top five programs in its classification yet the third best in its division.

The move to the MAIS unleashed a beast. The Lady Flashes have only had two close games — a 4-3 overtime win over Indianola Academy in the regular season and the win over Starkville Academy in the semifinals — and finally seem ready to take their place at the top of the heap.

“It’s just been a lot of hard work and practice,” Bottin said. “We all just work together every time and hope for the best.”

Hartfield Academy at St. Aloysius

MAIS Division III girls soccer championship game

Today, 5 p.m., at Balzli Field

Admission: $6

MAIS All-Star Game

Wednesday. 1 p.m., at Jackson Prep

Admission: $8

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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