By Rob Witham
May 22, 2021
Sophia Palumbo had a brief announcement for her St. Catherine’s teammates just before their VISAA title game against rival Collegiate.“I’m not going out on my soccer career with a loss,” Palumbo stated deftly and without bravado.
Then she returned to the line and headed for battle. Eventually, the senior took matters into her own hands, sending a free kick into the box, where freshman Syd McAdoo headed the ball into the net for the only goal of the night as the Saints completed a 14-0 campaign with a thrilling 1-0 triumph over the Cougars.
To complete the journey, the Saints had to defeat a Collegiate squad that nipped at their heels all season. The Cougars fell 1-0 and 2-1 to St. Catherine’s in regular season play, and 3-2 in overtime in the LIS Championship a week ago.
The Cougars seized momentum from the opening whistle, spending a lot of early minutes on the Saints’ side of the field. But, whereas Collegiate took a 2-0 lead a week earlier, the Saints stemmed the tide and, with an uneven performance behind them, headed to the huddle at halftime scoreless.
St. Catherine’s peppered Collegiate goalkeeper Addison Thompson early in the second half, including a two-on-one opportunity just 35 seconds in. The flow of the game was changing.“These girls knew the game plan, stuck to the game plan, and finished when we needed to finish,” noted St. Catherine’s coach Laurie Marshalek.
A Peyton Hudson shot 4 minutes later missed wide right, but, 13 minutes later, when Palumbo was awarded a free kick from 40 yards in the middle of the pitch, she didn’t miss a beat.
“That is my favorite spot to hit a ball,” Palumbo said. “When they called that, I said this is our time. McAdoo and Sophia Connell are two people I really look for when I’m hitting those, and Mac was in the perfect position to score.”
After that goal, the Collegiate bench, full of energy early, slowly quieted to occasional urging. The McAdoo goal seemed to capture the match psychologically. But the Cougars were far from done.
Thompson made two critical saves on shots in the 64th minute, giving the Cougars a chance for a final push. Nine minutes later, the Cougars logged two big shots on goal, one from less than 10 yards. On both, Saints junior goalkeeper Taylor Applewhite denied the tying score.
“She’s an amazing player, and, more importantly, an incredible kid,” Marshalek said of Applewhite. “She was instrumental in orchestrating the game plan.”
It was a bitterly disappointing end for Collegiate, which finished 13-4, all four losses by a goal to the champions. The Cougars were the only team to score on St. Catherine’s in 2021, tallying three in their four-match series.
As Palumbo received her championship medal and saluted the crowd, she thought back to February and everything the Saints had to navigate during this unusual season to make it to the championship.
“In the beginning, it was a lot, just hoping and praying we’d have a season,” Palumbo said. “When we found out we would have a season, we said, this is our time to shine, our time to go.”
The Saints can now bask in the glory that came at the end of the journey.