Knight’s goal, defense and heart fuel Hawks 1-0 win over No 1 St. Thomas Aquinas
Viera High players celebrate after their 1-0 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas Thursday night in the Class 4A state semifinals at Melbourne High. The Hawks will play for the title tonight
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
It’s a powerful tool in the hands of a group of people willing to give every single ounce of energy they have into doing something most people probably didn’t give them a snowball’s chance in … well, you know … of ever getting it done.
Belief is what has powered the Viera High girls soccer team all season on its mission to win another state championship.
And belief is what helped Viera knock off the No. 1 ranked team in the country Thursday night in the Class 4A state semifinals at Melbourne High School.
Hollyn Knight’s first half goal, a gritty, standout defensive performance and miles and miles of heart propelled the Hawks to a 1-0 victory over 14-time state champ St. Thomas Aquinas.
“We just said just leave everything on the field like we did these last couple of games; just fight ‘til the end,” Knight said. “We believed. We watched videos (of them). We believed we could do this.
“We came out there, and we proved it. I felt like we fought until the end.”
The Hawks (21-1-1) will play Niceville (21-0) – a 4-2 winner over East Lake in Thursday’s other semifinal -- for the state championship tonight at 9:05.
Perhaps someone should tell Viera players they have no chance of winning this one. It seems to fire them up.
“I knew the whole time that we would do it,” senior Jordan Walsh said. “I knew it because we wanted it. We were going to fight for it.
“That’s my biggest thing. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to do it.”
Determination fueled Knight on her game-winning goal as well.
Moments after St. Thomas Aquinas had a point-blank shot into an empty net go wide right, the Hawks lined up for a corner kick in the game’s 26th minute.
Brooke Walsh passed the ball to Jordan Walsh, who gave it back to her sister for a perfectly-executed cross over the defense, toward the far post.
As she left her feet, Knight knew this was the moment the Hawks had been waiting for.
“I closed my eyes on that header, and I just ended up on the ground,” she said. “I heard everybody screaming.”
The moment was so exciting, in fact, the Knight was temporarily confused. As teammate Sarah Kelliher came rushing over to congratulate her, Knight had a question.
“I asked Sarah, ‘Who made it?’” a smiling Knight said. “I didn’t even know.”
The goal was a huge momentum swing for the Hawks, but they knew it was far from over.
St. Thomas Aquinas (20-1-1) was ranked No. 1 nationally in the USA Today Super 25 Expert Rankings, No. 1 by MaxPreps and No. 2 by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
The Raiders had outscored their opponents 127-12 in their 21 previous games. They beat Class 3A champion American Heritage Plantation during the regular season that also included a trip to California to play in the Tri-Valley Classic against some of the top teams in the nation.
Despite tying Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) – the only blemish on their record before Thursday night – the Raiders won that tournament.
So it was no small challenge Viera was facing.
But let’s not forget, it’s not like the Hawks are ranked one spot below chopped liver.
They’re the defending Class 4A champions, and No. 13 in the nation according to TopDrawerSoccer.com
Goalkeeper Sydney Lau came up big, making seven saves and had a look on her face in the final minutes – as St. Thomas Aquinas had a free kick and a corner kick – that there was no way anything was getting by her.
Defenders Sarah Sanford, Shannon Gosule, Julia Ramsey and Morgan Pulliam constantly got there at the right time to thwart the Raiders’ attack.
“Going into this game, we knew they were going to go right a lot and Morgan did a great job shutting that down,” Lau said.
As well as the defense played, the Hawks also got big performances from Kelliher, Mollie Roe, Knight, Jordan Walsh, Brooke Walsh and JJ Bryant with help off the bench from Cori Fisher, Jaclyn Zumsteg, Mya Norton and Emily Bodi.
Let’s not forget the other Hawks who have also played a big role during the regular season and, in the case of the JV players who have been called up, this postseason run – Alex Capalbo, Cassie Bodi, Kylie Pulliam, Kailee Holland, Hannah Lucas, Hannah Howe and Kristen Clark.
“They just believed in themselves,” Viera coach Courtney Lundy said. “St. Thomas is a great team. Obviously, they play some great soccer. We saw some video on them (Wednesday) and they were like, ‘We can do this.’
“Getting the first goal early gave us a little bit more confidence. I had no doubts after that, that we were going to fight. It was going to be a fight, but we were going to fight until the whistle blew.
“They played with a lot of heart and passion. They’re talented, but on top of that, they’ve got the heart and passion.”
As big as Thursday’s win was for Viera, one more challenge awaits.
Not only is Niceville a talented team that cannot be overlooked, but the Hawks have to find a way to make sure they don’t have a St. Thomas Aquinas hangover.
After all, their ultimate goal is still out there.
“We’ve got to realize the entire year has been about getting to this point,” Jordan Walsh said “It wasn’t about beating St. Thomas. It was about winning another state championship and going back-to-back.
“I think we proved to ourselves tonight can do that. We’ve just got to make sure we focus.”