The 2016 season was an interesting one for the Guerin Catholic Women’s Soccer program. Things did not get off to an amazing start as nine games in they sported a record of 3-5-1. The road ahead offered little in the way of consolation as the schedule was littered with top tier teams, eventually leading to one of the deepest Sectionals in the state. Still, Coach Jonathon McClure stayed positive and continued to push his girls to improve. The fruits of his labor became evident with a late season win over Cathedral, but what followed next was borderline amazing. In back to back matches, the Golden Eagles bested #6 Zionsville twice, the latter of which was a first round Sectional contest. They then followed this up by winning the Sectional Championship over #3 Carmel. For the encore, they went on to best #2 Avon in the Regional Semi-final. Though they would fall to Brebeuf Jesuit in the Regional Finals, they had proven to themselves (and everyone else around the state) that they could play with and beat the best. That belief set the stage for what these ten seniors and their teammates have gone on to accomplish.
In the 2017 preseason, McClure and his staff took the team on a trip to Valparaiso. The three-hour road trip offered an opportunity for the girls to get know each other a little better, but the real bonding took place at Dunes State Park. McClure put his team through a brutal workout regimen, up and down the sand dunes, over and over again. Many were pushed harder than they had ever been pushed before, but the benefits would echo well into the team’s future. While reminiscing on the summer, McClure shared, “That was an awesome trip, one that allowed us to learn more about ourselves (individually and as a team), and set the tone for the season.”
It seemed to work. The Golden Eagles opened with a 7-0 win over Westfield. This victory was immediately followed up with another upset win over Carmel, 1-0. After defeating conference foe Heritage Christian 7-0 in their third game, they rolled into a huge match-up with the conference’s defending champions, the #1 nationally ranked Brebeuf Braves. The match was part of a varsity double-header played between the two schools’ Boys and Girls teams at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium. Despite playing extremely well, they came away with their first defeat. Rather than be disheartening, the loss served to refocus the squad on their ultimate goal: a state championship.
“After the game, I was upset, but I think I was more motivated from that only because we went into the season with a goal of being undefeated. The loss really motivated us not to lose again, because it was a really bad feeling – it was not a fun feeling at all!” explained senior co-captain Megan Wampler.
When asked to reflect on both the early victory over Carmel and the defeat by Brebeuf, McClure stated, “They were both big for similar and differing reasons. We approach each opportunity to compete as a learning tool for future opportunities. We were able to recall on both of these contests at times through the season.”
Their next time out, the Golden Eagles responded with a 4-0 victory over Fishers. “It showed us living out our motto of ‘Failure is not an option #FINAO,” said leading scorer and senior co-captain Elle Vuotto, referring to how the team dealt with its earlier adversity.
From there, they went on a serious run, going 8-0-1 and outscoring their opponents 29-1 for the rest of the regular season. Things were going as planned, but the real work was still to begin.
Sectional 10 (hosted at Guerin Catholic) featured #2 Brebeuf Jesuit, #3 Carmel, #4 Guerin Catholic, and #10 Zionsville. Nicknamed by some as the “Sectional of Death” (after the World Cup Group of Death concept where several of the best teams are occasionally grouped together, thus ensuring a worthy team will not make the cut), it was anyone’s guess as to who would emerge.
Guerin Catholic received a bye before winning a rematch with Westfield. Carmel topped Brebeuf in the other semi-final, setting up another rematch. The Greyhounds came into the game seeking revenge not only for the earlier regular season loss, but also for the season ending Sectional loss from the year before. The stage was set for a memorable contest.
Memorable it was. The match was played in a downpour, complete with a howling wind. Due both to the weather and the parity of the two teams involved, the game remained scoreless through regulation. After both overtime periods failed to produce a score, the championship was settled over penalty kicks. Senior co-captain Malorie Bestard, Wampler, and senior Cassidy Lindley’s successful attempts and senior goalkeeper Claire Gavin’s stops clinched the school’s first ever AAA Sectional title. It was sheer pandemonium as the large and raucous crowd celebrated their team’s accomplishment on their home field.
The school’s first AAA Regional title would be soon follow. The Golden Eagles dispatched Plainfield in the semi-finals by a score of 4-0. Later that same night, they faced the unbeaten Trojans of East Central. After a bit of a sluggish start, freshman Quincy McMahon and Vuotto both found the back of the net before the end of the first half. Wampler added one more to secure the 3-0 victory and plaque for their trophy.
What followed over the next Friday and Saturday will long be remembered by this group of seniors. They loaded up in vans and headed down to Lawrenceburg on Friday afternoon. Arriving early afforded them the opportunity to go down to the field and visualize how their Semi-state game against Columbus North would play out.
“It was fun going without parents, not worrying about anyone, rooming with all of your friends. We went to the field the night before to visualize, but just ended up playing football! It was great to just bond and talk. Those are the things you will always remember,” reminisced Wampler.
The highlight of the evening came a little bit later when the coaches took the seniors on a “secret mission.” They loaded back up in the vans and headed to downtown Cincinnati. Once there, McClure sprang for ice cream for the group. They were free to enjoy each other’s company and take in the experience.
“Definitely, that was the highlight of the season,” offered Vuotto.
Little things like this speak to McClure’s holistic approach to coaching.
“My staff and myself believe in full that we are here for the kids. This is their team, and we are merely guides on their journey. It is important to us to get to know each of our kids, understand what is important to them, and work alongside them to maximize their potential while here at Guerin Catholic (within their Faith, family, academics, community, and then their extracurriculars). We want to provide lasting learning and life experiences that will assist them to be successful, confident leaders well after their time with us. Most of all, we feel that any of our kids that want to represent our school and represent the Golden Eagles should have that opportunity…In my eight years with the school, we have never cut a kid at tryouts,” McClure stated.
It is not lost on his players. When asked for her thoughts on the coaching staff, Bestard explained, “Our coaches keep such a close relationship with us. They really look out for us as a player and a student.”
Wampler echoed the sentiment. “They are all so close to us, and they mean so much to us. They care about us not only as soccer players but also as people.”
Vuotto added, “Our coach is just amazing, the best in the state, and we wouldn’t be here without him!”
And “here” they are. Tomorrow they will play their last game, guaranteed. It will be under the lights, in front of a boisterous, supportive crowd, and for a championship – and it will be with their best friends.
“I’ve never been a part of a team that loves each other, that does so much as a team on and off of the field,” shared Bestard.
“Our seniors are a bunch of different personalities you would never expect to come together, but we do. We just love the program, and we love to work together,” affirmed Vuotto.
“We all have such a close bond. Just the fact that it’s our last week kind of hurts my heart. I don’t think I’ve been with a closer team,” Wampler added.
“Of course this is a talented group on the field, but what has been most impressive is their genuine care for one another, and enjoyment they get in being with one another. They possess a tremendous calm and confidence in who they are and what they are capable of being. (What I will remember most about this team is) the quality they possess as young people, and the very strong bond they have with one another. From top to bottom, this is such a special group of kids,” McClure reflected.
They have a tough test in front of them in the Penn Kingsmen. Penn is 65-1-4 over the past three seasons with the one loss coming in the state championship game to Brebeuf in 2015. They ended the season at #1 in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s national FAB 50 rankings. That is the bad news.
The good news is they tied Carmel (a team the Golden Eagles have defeated twice) and played two incredibly tight games with Noblesville (a team Carmel defeated). In fact, MaxPreps has the Golden Eagles as the favorite, entering Friday night as the #1 team in the nation. They will also have the support of a rowdy cheering section (couch or no couch).
More than all of this, they will have the unbreakable bond which has been formed between this team and its coaches, these seniors and underclassmen, and throughout this senior class. What started in earnest on the dunes of Valparaiso and was nurtured in downtown Cincinnati over ice cream will serve as the catalyst for tomorrows herculean effort when it is needed most.