By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
HAMMOND – At halftime with his team trailing 1-0 in the Division III girls soccer state championship game Tuesday, Loyola coach Mark Matlock was the least concerned person on the Flyers bench.
As far as you know.
“That’s the message I was trying to get across, but when you are down 1-0 that doubt starts to creep in,” Matlock said. “I told them that everything was OK. I didn’t want them to get emotional and start making mistakes. I knew our chances were going to come.”
They came sooner than Matlock and the Flyers probably imagined. Loyola put in an all-out assault on the back of the net in the second half to take a 4-1 championship win over Archbishop Hannan (Covington).
Two minutes after halftime, Mary Helen Burford, the Flyers’ center defender, came up for a corner kick from Madalyn VanDevender and headed it into the goal to put Loyola on the board.
“I just saw it coming and knew it was my time to knock it in for the team,” Burford said.
Four minutes later, senior Kennedy Jarrett had an excuse-me goal on a seemingly harmless shot that deflected off the Hawks’ goalkeeper, then rolled slowly into the net.
At that point, the Flyers smelled blood in the water.
Senior Erin Campbell, who scored a goal as a freshman on the last Flyer state championship team in 2019, beat a defender 1-on-1 to make it 3-1 with 27 minutes left – the Flyers’ third goal in 13 minutes. The Flyer continued to apply pressure, and VanDevender knocked one home with eight minutes left.
Time to start dusting off a space in the Loyola trophy case.
“I think we were all just excited and nervous in the first half,” Jarrett said. “We finally got our heads in the game. I think we all needed to realize that we needed to trust each other, that we weren’t going to make mistakes.”
“Coach (Matlock) just told us to keep the pressure on in the second half,” VanDevender said. “We’ve worked our butts off all season and we knew we were the better team.”
“Our pressure in the second half made the difference,” said Burford, who was named the game’s MVP. “We just wanted it more and we were going to go get it.”
“We really didn’t give them any chances in the second half because we kept possession of the ball,” Matlock said. “I wanted the wind (in) the second half and we did a pretty good job withstanding their pressure in the first half when they had the wind.”
Loyola becomes the first Shreveport-Bossier team (boys or girls) to win multiple state soccer championships.
Visits to Strawberry Stadium left a bitter taste for the Flyers in the last two years. In fact, Loyola hadn’t scored a goal in 190 minutes of regulation or overtime in Hammond. Two years ago it was a 1-0 loss to University Lab, and last year was a penalty-kick loss, again to the Cubs.
“It’s always in the back of your mind of whether we are going to have another one like before,” Matlock said. “And when you go down 1-0, that’s the first thing that creeps into your mind.”
The blended stories of the four Loyola goal scorers is interesting – Campbell and Jarrett were significant contributors as freshman on the Flyers’ previous state title team while Burford and VanDevender were managers for last year’s state finalists, due to being ineligible as transfer students.
This was the fourth straight state championship game appearance for Loyola’s girls, and the seventh since 2013. Only in 2019 did the Flyers celebrate afterward.
There have been years in which the team didn’t have enough experience to win a state championship match. Years in which the Flyers simply weren’t the better team. Or the opponent just had one player who was a difference maker.
There have been years in which a controversial goal made the difference. One that resulted in the ultimate agony – a loss on penalty kicks.
And there was that year in which the Flyers did come away with the championship, though even that carried a small asterisk.
The lesson here is that no matter how many times you get to a state championship match, some kind of unique challenge awaits.
The previous state crown came in Division IV, the state’s smallest classification, where the
Flyers landed that year after playing in finals in both Divisions II and III. A title is a title, but Tuesday’s dashed doubts about whether or not Loyola could win in a higher classification.
“This is what I might consider my most complete team,” Matlock said. “I’m so proud of the girls for keeping their composure and getting back into it in the second half.”
Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL