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Gene's Blog: A Chemistry Club, dressed in soccer cleats

Gene's Blog: A Chemistry Club, dressed in soccer cleats

Tommie Women's Soccer scored 58 times is 22 games this fall during a record-setting, trophy-gathering season.

It turns out that the team's most important "goals" were of the intangible kind, concepts on the drawing board.

"At the beginning of the season, we chose these ideas as our core values: Sacrifice, Love, Out-team, and Pride," said senior Mary Ennis. "Sacrifice of time and comfort to push ourselves to be better; Love for the game and for teammates; success achieved through working together and Out-teaming the opponent; and Pride in our identity as Tommies and the legacy we were carrying on."

Acronym lovers can figure out this team has a sense of humor, too. Those core values became known as their SLOP.

With better luck -- if just one late Sunday play breaks another way -- a fun and historic St. Thomas' season would still be going, and UST would already be assured of a top-10 national finish.

Instead, as the Tommies embrace another top-20 showing, they found perspective. They learned that a well-executed journey can be savored as much as the destination.

Sunday's 110-minute stalemate at UW-La Crosse included a 2-0 deficit that UST erased near the end of regulation time with two Kate Heimer goals.

Then the Tommies suffered a bug bite. The nasty Shootout bug. When the 2-2 tie through two overtimes went to the shootout format, the Eagles struck quickly and won the tie-breaker by a 3-0 margin to advance.

Shootout is a scary word at NCAA playoff time. An outsider might wonder: Is there another team sport where someone's season ends and the other's continues based not on team play but instead on a few athletes using a single skill set? Who decides an overtime NCAA playoff basketball game with a free-throw contest? Who decides an extra-inning NCAA softball playoff contest on bunting proficiency?

Many players experience both sides of these tie-breakers at some point of youth, prep or college soccer. Consider it an imperfect element of an otherwise terrific sport.

 

So Many Positives

As the sting fades, these Tommie players will savor all they achieved this fall and throughout their careers, and celebrate the bond they built together.

The success started with UST's wise and caring coaching staff, and came to fruition because of an extraordinary seven-person senior class that set a high standard.

Fittingly, senior Brie Bourdage used the word team four times in one short quote.

"All 27 of us had a bond like no other," Bourdage said. "We were best friends both on and off the field, which truly made us such a powerful, dynamic team. Whether it was practice, a game, or a team hangout, you could see and feel the team chemistry through our laughter, hard work, and the support system we created. Each one of us was there to be a part of a team that pushed us to be better individuals, both on and off the field."

"Tommie Soccer has been a life-changing experience for me," said senior All-America Mallory DeBoom. "It brought selfless, loving, and passionate women into my life. They became more than just my teammates, but also my best friends. The accomplishments only feel as great as they do because of the people we get to do them with. The senior class knew we wanted to set the best example for what team chemistry should be like, and this year was the best time to showcase that shared goal for each other."

Coach Sheila McGill has steadily upgraded her recruiting talent during her 12-year era. She hit the jackpot when she brought in the current seniors back in the fall of 2015.

It's no coincidence her program went from eight wins in 2014 before they arrived... to 12 wins in 2015... to 17 wins in 2016... to 13 wins in 2017... to a program-record 19 wins this season.

Thirteen freshman started together in 2015. Seven were still here kicking when camp opened last August: Tess Baier, Brie Bourdage. Mallory DeBoom, Mary Ennis, McKenna Peplinski, Shelby Stalberger and Emma Theis.

These seniors have a combined grade-point average of 3.54. If you wondered whether all seven major in chemistry, it's a decent guess. They actually specialize in Engineering, Business, English, Catholic Studies and Exercise Science.

"My favorite part," Peplinski said, "is that our senior class has become each other's best friends and support system despite vastly different majors, interests, and personalities. Without soccer, its unlikely that this would have happened, and we really owe Tommie soccer for bringing us all together. I learned and grew through my teammates' differing perspectives, and I think together our differences created well-rounded team leadership.

They had different roles on the field, but their leadership and poise were the glue that allowed St. Thomas to dominate the conference this fall and continue to make waves toward the national radar.

Often following a painful, season-ending loss, you'll hear someone say they feel especially bad for the seniors. In this case, Sheila's Class of 2019 defines winning in multiple ways.

"I felt so blessed to be surrounded by 27 amazing women, and three incredible coaches," said Baier. "I could have never been upset with the outcome this weekend, because I just had my favorite season. I have only positive memories, thanks to the senior class and 2018 team. I was lucky enough to spend these last four years with six of the best teammates, athletes, and friends. There is such a fun, positive energy when we are together, and that is more important to me than any win or loss. We often reflect on meeting each other as freshmen -- my Dad had started calling it 'fate' that we all showed up to play at UST. Each member of our class held such an important leadership role for our team, each contributing something different, and mixing it together to create a whole."

 

Thanks for the Memories

The seven-member Women's Soccer senior class won 61 games during its era -- the most victories in any four-year span in program history.

For the first time since a postseason MIAC playoff was added in 2003, St. Thomas swept the conference regular-season and playoff championships. UST claimed the conference regular-season title for the third time in four seasons. They had a national ranking as high as No. 13, and for most of the season held a No. 1 regional rank.

St. Thomas swept the three top individual awards in the conference: McGill was voted Coach of the Year; DeBoom was voted Offensive Player of the Year for the second time in her career; and Baier was voted Defensive Player of the Year.

Peplinski and Bourdage are now on the national ballot for CoSIDA Academic All-America consideration, too.

The 2018 Tommies (19-2-1) also:

  • set program records for wins (19) and for longest winning streak (14).
  • scored UST's most season goals in more than 20 seasons.
  • went unbeaten in the postseason (3-0-1);
  • posted the best record for any MIAC women's soccer team in the last 12 seasons;
  • finished 10-0 in play on its home field;
  • outscored opponents 10-0 in the last nine minutes of regulation and throughout overtimes;
  • outscored opponents 58-11 overall, with 13 shutouts. 

Over the last four seasons, the Tommies have recorded a conference-best 48 shutouts, and also posted a 28-10 record in one-goal decisions. Ten times in that span, they fell behind in games but came back to win or tie. In games they scored first, they went 55-0. In games when they scored two or more goals, St. Thomas went 41-0-2. 

DeBoom scored 111 career points (44 goals) to move into No. 2 on the program's career scoring list. UST finished 47-0-4 in games on her career when she scored a point, and she had 19 game-winning goals.

Bourdage had eight goals among her 30 career points. St. Thomas went 20-0-1 in games when she contributed a point.

Baier, Stalberger, Peplinski and Theis helped build UST's Bermuda Triangle defense, where opponents' promising scoring chances regularly vanished into thin air.

"The success of this team goes far beyond our wins and stats," Ennis said. "This was a group of dedicated, driven women who challenged each other and sacrificed for each other on and off the field. This team was passionate about soccer, but even more about striving for excellence while building character and deep friendships. This environment and team chemistry provided the foundation for a very successful season, in which many different players had the opportunity to take center stage with the rest of the team behind them."

 

Life Lessons

"I don't have a single regret over my last four years," Theis said, "primarily because with each mistake I made, I was surrounded by the love and support from the class of 2019. In 20 years, I won't remember the details of each game, I'll remember the faces and personalities I played the game with. All the thanks to the University of St. Thomas for providing me with this life-shaping opportunity."

Baier added, "I've never felt so fortunate to be able to play with six of my best friends for four years, and to have such an amazing team with outstanding chemistry. I'm so proud of our team, and proud to have been a part of the Tommie program." 

Stalberger enjoyed the ride, too.

"It was an incredible four years. There really are no words to describe the memories and happiness we shared," Stalberger explained. "I owe so much of my character to this program and the friends I've made along the way. I only hope that I have inspired these women even just a fraction as much as they have inspired me. I wish this program only the best in the future – it's filled with brilliant and empowering women who possess an incredible drive to keep shattering expectations."

McGill said she'll dearly miss her Super Seven. She now hopes her Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 can grow into new roles and carry on this blueprint.

"Our seniors displayed tremendous leadership, and just brought the whole team together," McGill said. "They just set a new standard for the program. They see that being a Tommie never stops, so I'm sure these women will always stay connected to our program."

 

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 25th season at St. Thomas and 31st overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu