NEW ORLEANS — There was a major event at St. Scholastica Friday night — the Sweetheart Dance.
But a high-profile contingent of the student body couldn’t be there.
Instead, the SSA soccer team gathered at senior Kate Gutterman’s home for a bonding dinner on the eve of the Doves’ Division I girls state soccer championship game against Lafayette High at Tad Gormley Stadium, followed by an early bedtime.
The dinner is a team tradition of five years running – the same number of consecutive times SSA has been in the title match. Also, the Doves (18-1-2) entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, so it’s not exactly unexpected they’re back again.
“I guess they could have waited a week to have the dance,” said senior midfielder Rebecca Beatty. “We’d like to go, but we’re got to focus on preparing for the championship.”
“We’ll get a lot of support Saturday though. At least I should hope we do.”
Such is the ying-and-yang at SSA.
The stereotypical image of the Covington school’s student body might be of one focused around the social graces and social lives. But the soccer team prides itself on its down and dirty jockdom, even if the nickname Doves doesn’t necessarily bespeak ferociousness.
“We’re definitely the outcasts of the school,” said junior center back Abby Childress, who had two goals in SSA’s 3-1 semifinal victory against Mount Carmel. “I mean, we all love each other, but not everybody has the total dedication to give up everything for four or five months just for this team.
“It’s like I skipped every single parade this year. Mardi Gras is forever, but you get this opportunity for only four years at the most.”
The team’s dedication certainly has the respect of SSA coach Mike Ortner.
“We can have the coldest, wettest muddiest practices, and these girls are always prepared to do whatever it takes to be successful,” he said. “They all go through club, and then when the high school season begins they practice almost every day.
“We make it clear to them that the past success of this team is because nothing is taken for granted. You don’t just put on a St. Scholastica jersey and show up in the championship match.”
But while the streak of five straight title appearances, there’s a void in the résumé’ of most of the SSA players.
The Doves’ past two seasons have ended in 2-1 losses to Dominican and Mount Carmel.
That means only the team’s four seniors have experienced winning a title. And that came three years ago in a cold, cavernous Independence Stadium in Shreveport before about 100 fans instead of the large turnouts the past two years at Gormley where the SSA contingent was joined by those from neighboring St. Paul’s, which happens to be in its third straight championship match Saturday against Jesuit.
“It’s felt like the whole North Shore was there,” Beatty said. “To lose one in that kind of atmosphere makes it even more disappointing.
“Two years ago, St. Paul’s won, so we were happy for them. Then last year, we both lost. That was bad.”
The atmosphere at Gormley is something Lafayette coach Katie Breaux said she hopes works to her team’s advantage Saturday.
“St. Scholastica is used to it, so maybe they’ll feel like it’s no big deal,” she said “But either way, our players adrenaline definitely will be flowing higher than theirs.”
SSA and Lafayette met in December with the Doves winning 2-0. But Breaux said her team has improved since then, primarily because of the insertion of Larae Breaux at goalkeeper.
The second-seeded Lions (18-2-1) also have gotten a boost from sisters Alexcia and Aerial Alexander. In Lafayette’s 2-0 semifinal victory against Fontainebleau, Aerial, a freshman, assisted on both goals with passes to Alexcia, a junior.
“They call it “sister telepathy,” Breaux said. “And it’s just gotten better as the season has gone on.”
In contrast, SSA has gotten leadership from Beatty, a Charlotte signee and center midfielder Lucy Duet, who will play at Washington & Lee and Gutterman, along with a defense that has allowed only one goal in the playoffs, that coming with a 3-0 lead against Mount Carmel.
That match was also characterized by its chippiness, although Ortner said it was over “misunderstandings” more than anything else.
“We don’t try to initiate things, but if you try to be physical with us, we’re going to hold our own,” said junior defender Megan Due. “We play with class and we always try to be sportsmanlike.”
Just like a proper St. Scholastica Dove should.
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