STM's historic soccer season ends
CHILLICOTHE — There have been better won-lost records in the history of the St. Thomas More girls’ soccer program.
There has never been a team that has accomplished more in the postseason.
The Sabers’ historic season ended on Tuesday, with a 4-1 Class 1A super-sectional loss to Manteno (23-2), leaving STM one win away from a Final Four berth.
“There were a few unlucky plays,” said defender Courtney Wax, one of six STM senior starters, “but we fought the whole time.”
STM had the first scoring opportunity, but Randa Harshbarger’s shot was stopped “with a great save by their goalie,” STM coach James Johnson said. ”If we got that one in, it could have been a different game.”
Manteno scored 10 minutes into the game and got on the board again when goalkeeper Lexi Wallen was required to leave the match briefly to have a cut on her knee bandaged.
For the fifth straight postseason game, St. Thomas More’s opponent was the favorite.
“Every game, we were pegged to lose,” senior sweeper Katie Kulas said. “We were quite the underdog. That gave us more fire.”
The Sabers (12-10) took satisfaction in their school-record run.
No previous STM girls’ soccer team had won a sectional crown.
“Our program motto is to leave the program better than we found it,” Kulas said. “That’s something everyone on our team lives by.”
Louisette Lukusa scored the lone STM goal on the rebound from Michaela Ward’s free kick.
It was the first postseason goal alloed by Manteno, which has 17 season shutouts.
“That was right before half and gave us energy into the half (trailing 2-1),” Johnson said.
Johnson believes his team lost to the school which will win the Class 1A state title Saturday.
“Every single girl on the field (for Manteno) is a year-round soccer player (compared to five Sabers),” Johnson said. “They are the real deal, better than anybody we’d seen. Our girls know they got beat by the better team.
“That takes a little bit of the sting out of it.”
All eight STM seniors played in the match.
Senior starters besides Harshbarger, Kulas, Lukusa and Wax were Katie Gillette and Meredith Thomas. The senior reserves were Courtney Boyer and Young Cho.
Wax was also a starter on the school’s Class 2A state championship basketball team.
“I am extremely fortunate to have done so well in athletics,” Wax said. “I attribute the success to my teammates, not me at all. I have full confidence they will do well next year, too.”
After a rough start to the season — which Johnson said “had me second-guessing the strength of schedule,” — STM entered Tuesday’s match with wins in seven of its last eight matches and had scored at least three goals in all of the wins.
“The story of our team was a lot of heart, a lot of energy and a lot of athleticism,” Johnson said. “At the very end, we had the finished product, and it was very special.”
In retrospect, Kulas said there wasn’t much her team could have done differently Tuesday.
“We left everything on the field,” she said. “They’re a good team.”