Girls’ Soccer: The first, sure, but they probably won’t be the last
Douglas senior CJ Baumgartner glanced over at her teammates after her Lady Tigers’ soccer team won the first NIAA 4A state title Saturday.
“I think these girls that are coming back can be state champions in the years to come,” she said. “These girls, this team is amazing.”
And in that simple statement, it hits you.
These Tigers might not be done.
Any coach of any high school team will tell you that it takes a special group under special circumstances to push through to win a regional title. That is only magnified when it comes to state titles.
You have to stay healthy. You have to get the right breaks. You have to avoid the trap games that crop up, especially early in the playoffs after successful regular seasons. You have to stick together as a team through an entire year and pull it all together at the right time.
The list goes on and on.
But the simple fact of it is this: For all intents and purposes, this was a transition year for the Lady Tigers. Their payoff years are still to come.
Sure, they had six starters returning from last year’s regional runner-up squad, but they’d lost their top forward, midfielder and defender to graduation.
Entering the year, the leadership – which in high school can be the difference between a championship and missing the playoffs entirely – hadn’t yet been defined. It was unclear exactly how that would play out as the year went on.
Obviously, things turned out pretty well.
But here’s the craziest thing about this year’s Tigers: Through the two state playoff games, they didn’t start a single senior.
Even further, they only started two juniors.
That means the vast bulk of their starting lineup can be expected back for the next two seasons.
That’s the high school sports definition of ridiculous.
The big question mark heading into the year was a defensive unit that included five sophomores and ended up allowing only 18 goals on the year – which, for all you history buffs, ranks as the third lowest total in school history.
Sophomore keeper Brianna Randall tied a school-record for shutouts in a season with 13.
A lot can happen in two years. There’s obviously no guarantee the Tigers will replicate this year’s performance again. There are a lot of other great soccer programs out there loaded with talent, just like the Tigers.
Having a target on your back means there will always be someone else aiming for you. That’s a tough role to play.
But Douglas plays a style of soccer that will be tough to overcome in the meantime.
Over and over again, during the regional and state soccer tournaments, I heard various people commenting on how much they liked the way Douglas plays.
I heard it from opposing coaches, referees, administrators and even players.
While other teams played for a one-goal game, Douglas charged ahead with its attack. No one else blazed forward like the Tigers did, and that had a lot to do with why they won.
The wide-open, spread style of soccer Douglas plays is still foreign to the Northern 4A. They don’t send the ball long and hope for a lucky breakaway. They pass to open space, direct the attack from multiple points and use their superior speed to fly past closely-packed defenses.
I’ve been told some of the fastest players at the school were still down at the junior varsity level this season, so you can expect that style to continue in the future.
Until the rest of the region adapts their style of play to counter what the Tigers do, it will be very tough to unseat them.
Because, as we well know, the inherent quality about underclassmen is that they tend to only get better with time.
It’ll all just come down to a matter of how much they want it.