By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
With less than two minutes to play in a game that would decide which team would go to the girls soccer state championship game, St. Michael’s coach Phil Silverman walked down the bench area to have a conversation with Loyola coach Mark Matlock.
“We are going to be playing up here (in North Louisiana) next year,” Silverman told Matlock. “You want to try to get together and play while we are here?”
“Sure, I’d love to,” said Matlock, completely – and typically – unemotional about what was happening on the field.
This is a coach who is about to take a team to the state championship game? Well, you can forgive Matlock if it seems like something like this happened before.
It happened last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. In fact, this will be his seventh trip to the finals as Flyers’ coach.
While he was talking to Silverman, Matlock looked toward his bench to his players. “Girls, y’all get ready to run on the field when the whistle blows.”
Seconds later, the Flyers rushed the field after completing a rather business-like 3-0 win in the semifinals over the Warriors at Messmer Stadium.
“It’s always special,” Matlock said of a trip to the finals. “I’ve been impressed with this team and what they’ve done and I feel like we are peaking at the right time. We went a month and didn’t win a game and now we’ve got a month and haven’t lost a game.”
You might think Matlock is exaggerating, but he’s actually underplaying it. From Nov. 19 to Dec. 28 (38 days), Loyola went 0-5-4 (though it was against some of the top teams in Division I, including the two finalists).
Now, the Flyers haven’t lost since Dec. 29 (45 days), which includes 12 straight wins (allowing only three total goals in that span).
It was a dominant performance by the Flyers as senior Kennedy Jarrett scored on a header off a corner kick in the 19th minute to get the Flyers on the board. Seven minutes later, freshman Ainsley Matlock found herself in front of a wide-open goal and knocked it home for a 2-0 lead.
“That was neat,” coach Matlock said of seeing his daughter score in the semifinals. “The ball just kind of got knocked her way and she finished it.”
But it was Madalyn VanDevender’s goal in the second half that had everyone buzzing. The sophomore blasted a left-footed free kick from 25 yards out into the top left corner of the net to make it 3-0 with 25 minutes left.
“She looked over at me and asked what she should do,” Matlock said. “I just said kick it into the net.”
The Flyers, who won the title in 2019 but lost the last two years to University in the finals, will have an unfamiliar opponent in this year’s Division III title game, which will be played Tuesday at 3:30 at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond.
Archbishop Hannan, the No. 5 seed, beat top-seeded University 2-1 in overtime in the other semifinals.
“This team is on a mission,” Matlock said. “I really like the way they are playing. It seems like we are playing our best soccer at the right time.”
Loyola is the No. 2 seed and is 14-5-4 overall.
Photo by GRAHAM TRAWICK