By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published May 15, 2008
It was a fitting end to a perfect 19-0 season as Marist School knocked off its rival St. Pius X High School 2-1 to capture the girls Class AAAA state soccer title in front of an enthusiastic home crowd that filled the Hughes Spalding Stadium at Marist School. This season marks the second time Marist has gone undefeated. The first time it happened was back in 1989 when the team went 16-0-1(tie). They also won the state championship that year.
St. Pius was no pushover, as they entered the match with only one loss, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Marist on this same field on April 15. St. Pius struck first on a goal by sophomore forward Alexa Newfield with 1:28 remaining in the first half. Marist’s attempts to score were foiled on a number of key saves during the first half by Pius goalkeeper Emily Cox. St. Pius took the one point lead into halftime, and the score remained that way until Marist junior Laura Eddy kicked one through to tie the score 1-1 with 12:52 remaining in the game. The game ended in a tie, and the fans for both teams cheered in boisterous fashion as Marist and Pius prepared to take the field for two 5:00 overtimes.
When neither team scored during the overtimes, the game turned to a shootout of penalty kicks.
St. Pius was a perfect four-for-four on their penalty kicks, and Marist was four of five, which left the penalty kick tally at 4-4. That’s when Marist head coach Sergio Stadler, the founder of the school’s girls soccer program in 1988, decided to take a coaching risk. He switched out starting goalkeeper Natalie Jenkins for forward Mary Coffed to set up a dramatic finale. St. Pius senior forward Caitlin Raines came up for her penalty kick. As the crowd quieted down, Raines kicked and the ball hit the goal’s top crossbar, bouncing off. An ensuing cheer erupted from the crowd on the Marist side of the stadium. Then Marist defender Kayleen Duffy positioned herself for a kick. Quiet resumed again. She kicked it successfully past St. Pius goalkeeper Emily Holmes, and the Marist crowd broke into a roar once again. The final kick by Pius brought up junior forward Jamie Raines, as a hushed silence fell in the stadium one last time. Raines kicked, and Coffed smothered the ball. Marist fans went crazy, and Coffed’s teammates swarmed her with jubilant hugs.
The win gave Marist its seventh state championship over the program’s 20 years. When asked about the goalkeeper change during the shootout phase, Stadler said, “First, it is not a reflection on starting goalkeeper Natalie Jenkins. I was making a move to stop Pius’ momentum. It was a coaching gamble that worked. It’s like flipping a coin. Sometimes it’s heads, and sometimes it’s tails. This time the decision worked for us.”
Stadler was confident in Coffed’s ability. He said, “She is a great athlete. In a game against Lakeside-DeKalb (March 28) she had three goals and two assists in the first half. When our goalkeepers were not available for the second half, she came in, played goalie and had two phenomenal saves.We won 6-0.”
State runner-up is quite good for first-year St. Pius head coach Sara Geiger. She said, “I told the girls that they deserved to be where they were, and they were the ones that got themselves to the state championship game and no one can take that from them. I also let them know how proud I was that they never gave up and that they had helped bring soccer back to Pius.”
Geiger is aware of the intense rivalry that exists between the two schools and thinks it adds to the dynamics of the sports. She said, “I think that our team played a great game, and so did Marist. The game could have gone either way at the end. That is the kind of game you want in a state championship, one where both teams come out and play hard and play to win.”