St. Al wins MAIS soccer championship

Published 9:33 pm Monday, October 12, 2015

As soon as the ball left Madelyn Polk’s foot, she insists, she knew it was going into the goal.

Considering she and her St. Aloysius teammates had spent 70 minutes hitting the crossbar, the post, the keeper’s hands and anything else not made of netting, it’s understandable if everyone else at Balzli Field had their doubts — especially when the keeper jumped and deflected it just enough to make it flutter in the air for a tense second or two.

Polk, though, had it right. The ball did have enough on it to fall on the proper side of the goal line. St. Al had the go-ahead goal that had eluded it for nearly an hour and 10 minutes later it had something even better.

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Its first state championship.

Polk’s goal was the difference-maker as St. Al beat Hartfield Academy 2-1 Monday in the MAIS Division III girls’ soccer championship game. It’s the first state title for the Lady Flashes since the girls’ program was started in 2003 and capped off an undefeated season.

“I shot it and I thought it was going in, then she tapped it and I saw it going over her head and I knew it was going in,” said Polk, who also assisted on St. Al’s other goal. “I’m just so excited because I knew we could win. Then we all get happy. It’s like a really good feeling to know that we won the state championship.”

St. Al spent the past 11 years in the Mississippi High School Activities Association, most of them as an also-ran when it came to girls’ soccer. When it joined the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools in late July, the team — which normally wouldn’t have started its season until November — hastily reassembled, put together a schedule and immediately started cutting a swath of destruction through its opponents.

The Lady Flashes finished a perfect 14-0, with only three games decided by two goals or less. Polk, an eighth-grader, and senior Sara McDaniel combined for 57 goals while the defense led by seniors Catherine Smith and Shelby Bottin posted seven shutouts and allowed a total of 11 goals.

Getting to dance at midfield and lift the trophy as the state’s best team was as much a long-waited celebration as it was a confirmation of what most of Division III had known for two months.

“There’s no words to really say how you feel. I give it all to the girls. They kept it all together. That’s what it’s about, and I’m proud of each and every one of them,” St. Al coach Scott Mathis said.

Although the Lady Flashes looked like the best team in Division III all season long, Hartfield (15-2) proved a worthy adversary in the championship game.

After McDaniel scored in the 12th minute to put St. Al ahead 1-0, the Lady Hawks immediately cranked up the pressure on the other end of the field. Sainge Sorey got the equalizer in the 25th minute and the teams went into halftime tied 1-1.

St. Al controlled most of the second half, but couldn’t score. Polk hit the post in the 50th minute and McDaniel the crossbar in the 75th. Five other shots went just high or wide, and a number of other scoring chances fell apart when the ball was a step out of reach of a St. Al player breaking free, allowing the defense to recover.

Hartfield had some chances, too. It got a penalty kick in the 49th minute but Shelby Trammel, the team’s only senior, shot it high and the score stayed tied.

“I think we were just shooting a lot and trying to get the goal and we were just not really focused on getting it. We were just shooting at the target and hoping it would go in, trying to get a goal,” Polk said.

Finally, in the 81st minute, luck was on the Lady Flashes’ side.

McDaniel played a ball from the top of the box to Polk in the right corner. She dribbled around a defender and lifted a shot across the goal mouth. Hartfield keeper Kaylee Van Norman, a Vicksburg native, jumped and got a piece of it, but not enough to stop it completely. It tipped off her hands and fell just inside the far post to give St. Al a 2-1 lead.

“It was like something dropped inside of me, and I cannot believe it,” Mathis said of his initial reaction to Van Norman’s play. “I was just saying it the whole time, let’s get one more, one more, one more. We were getting those opportunities and there it went. And it was just beautiful. She pulled it from her left to her right and shot it instead of bringing it back to her left. When it came to her right she brought it out a little more and just easy touched it.”

The late goal was a backbreaker for Hartfield. St. Al controlled the last nine minutes of regulation and an additional five minutes of stoppage time, with Hartfield managing only one brief flurry. It applied pressure but didn’t get a shot on goal.

When the referee at last blasted three long tweets on his whistle to signal the end of the game, the Lady Flashes rushed to midfield to celebrate. McDaniel jumped into the arms of teammate Brooklyn Breithaupt, who caught her in a bear hug. Players came together and screamed in joy, and a moment later about 50 people from the vocal student section rushed the field to join in.

It was a celebration 12 years in the making, and worth every second of the wait.

“It’s like a relief that the whistle went off. But we’re really happy, because this has never happened,” Smith said. “It’s a great way to finish off your senior year.”

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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