NEW ORLEANS — It was Sarah Martin who netted the hat trick. It was Martin whose name was chanted by a frenzied crowd of Academy of Sacred Heart students when she was given her Most Outstanding Player award.
It was Martin who was immediately swarmed by TV cameras when the Cardinals polished off a dominating, 3-0 win over Loyola Prep in the state Division III soccer championship match Friday night.
But while the ASH senior striker was bashfully receiving the accolades, it just might have been the Cardinals’ midfielders and defenders who were responsible for ASH’s fourth straight state crown.
It was sophomore midfielder M.J. Williams who used her speed and deft touch to feed Martin the ball all night. And it was junior stopper Megan Terral who dogged Loyola offensive threat Anna Brown all night.
“Strikers get all the glory,” Sacred Heart coach Tooraj Badie said. “It’s the midfielders and defenders who get a pat on the back from the coach.”
Even Martin — whose goals came in the 27th, 57th and 69th minutes — lauded her teammates.
“This is a credit to the entire team,” Martin said.
Martin said her team’s offense runs began in the Cardinals’ backfield with a great defensive play, then worked up through the midfield and into attack mode.
And the key to that stellar defense was Terral, who combined with her mates to blanket the Loyola strikers all night.
“Our main thought was pressure and cover,” Terral said. “We wanted to pressure their top girls at all times, and whenever one of them got through, we’d have someone else there in case they needed to cover her.”
Terral, who shared an emotional hug with Badie as the ASH fans sang the school’s alma mater, said winning another state crown came down to team unity and a close-knit mentality.
“We just tried to play as a unit and work together, communicate and be there for each other,” said Terral. “We had a great game. It feels wonderful.”
A perfect example of that harmony came on Martin’s first goal, when Williams executed a flawless give-and-go that left Martin with a clear shot.
“Sarah scores three goals and gets most valuable player, but it’s M.J. who is setting her up the whole time,” Badie said.
On Friday it took the Cardinals just three or four minutes to feel out the Flyers’ game plan before taking over. ASH grabbed control of the midfield and used its skill and speed to relentlessly pressure the Loyola goal and force the Flyers to play catch-up. In fact, if it wasn’t for a few beautiful, point-blank saves by Flyers goalkeeper Ann Marie Allen, the score might have worst.
“Talk about focus,” Badie said. “This is the best-played game we’ve had all season long. They were here to take control and do whatever it takes to win.”
Of course, while Sacred Heart’s performance was partly fueled by several unsung efforts, in the end, it was Martin, in fact, who finished off her high-school career with a virtuoso performance.
“When Sarah has that kind of feeling, she’s hard to stop,” Badie said.
Martin added, “I can’t even explain (it),” Martin said. “On top of winning, such a huge stage ... This is the best day ever.”