St. Thomas Aquinas rules state again
February 12, 2012St. Thomas Aquinas High School
St. Thomas Aquinas' Ashley Cardounel (7) controls the ball as Hagerty's Samantha Collin (19) gives chase in the second half of their FHSAA Class 5A Girls Soccer Championship Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. The Raiders won 3-2 (OT).
Heading into this season, the St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ soccer team constantly heard comparisons about the previous year’s squad that won a state and national championship.
On Saturday, this new group of Raiders took home the Class 5A title with a 3-2 overtime win over Hagerty on junior midfielder Ashley Cardounel’s golden goal.
It came at 3:43 of the first extra period on a cross from freshman forward Jessica Hoyt that Cardounel deflected in with her knee.
“I held my breath, and I just crossed, and I watched it, and I prayed in that little second that it would go right in,” Hoyt said.
Added Cardounel: “I just knew it was coming, and it wasn’t an option to miss it; it wasn’t an option to flub it. I knew it had to go in.”
With the victory, St. Thomas (24-1-1) captured its Florida-best 12th state championship and finished its second season in a row of undefeated soccer against state opponents. The lone blemishes came in January at the National Elite Prep Showcase in Texas, where the team lost 1-0 to Coppell, the nation’s 11th-best team, and tied Rosary (Calif.) 1-1.
Hagerty (Oviedo), which ranks No. 43, was making its first state final trip. The Huskies (25-4-2) appeared on their way to the upset, twice holding one-goal leads.
Sophomore forward Sydney Schilling’s cross went all the way through untouched until junior midfielder Cherie Mundelein’s shot went past keeper Clara Rivera — who was making her first start — with 29 minutes left to give Hagerty a 2-1 lead. Through their first 25 games, the Raiders had allowed just four goals.
Senior keeper Megan Sweeney broke her collarbone against Cypress Bay during St. Thomas’ 4-0 state semifinal victory when she collided with sweeper Mackenzie Kligmann on a free kick. Rivera, who had a sprained ankle at the time, had her cast removed Monday.
“She did a great job for someone who came in and didn’t play all year,” Raiders coach Carlos Giron said of Rivera. “[She’d] been hurt for three weeks and came in the state championship and did a great job.”
Down 2-1 with 3:19 left in regulation, sophomore midfielder Kaitlin Tighe set her feet and bent low as she watched Margaret Falter’s cross approaching, heading it just inside the left post to tie the game.
“[Carlos] told us to calm the game down and just try to get a goal, and that’s what we did,” said Tighe, who came in as a sub to bring fresh legs and speed. “We were freaking out a lot. It was pretty nerve-wracking. Once we scored, we were determined to get one more goal and win the championship.”
The Huskies got on the scoreboard first when junior forward Amayah Banks dribbled through the defense and beat Rivera with a shot to the left side of the net in the 28th minute.
But senior midfielder Sarah Guensler tied it back up three minutes later on a pop-up header off a feed from Kligmann. Guensler had just missed a goal a few minutes earlier when she headed a ball off the crossbar on a cross from Cardounel, who hustled to chase down a ball on the right sideline.
Saturday marked the third time St. Thomas won at least consecutive titles in program history. Last year, the Raiders beat Newsome (Lithia) 2-0 in the final.
Ten of 11 starters graduated, leaving new faces with the task of leaving their own mark on the nation’s 15th-ranked team.
“We just always thought from moments we would talk in the locker room at the beginning of the season that it was no comparisons because we always heard something that, ‘Every time you compare yourself to somebody, you always come up short,’ ” Cardounel said. “We knew we would, so we just had to play our own game.”
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