The undefeated St. Thomas girls’ soccer team is headed to Texas for the National Elite Prep Showcase.
When the St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ soccer team arrives in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday for its annual participation in the National Elite Prep Showcase, the ride from the airport to the hotel will be anything but comfortable.
The 27 Raiders girls will be “squished” into a small shuttle bus, said senior forward Jessica Hoyt, who remembers the experience from the past two years.
“Our luggage takes up half the bus,” said Hoyt, who leads the Raiders with 21 goals and 27 assists. “Some of our girls act like it’s a three-week trip [instead of five days], and they bring way too many bags. It’s these sparkly, shiny, pink, totally absurd bags.”
Despite her comical rant, it’s clear that Hoyt loves her teammates — “they’re my best friends” — and the cramped shuttle ride is just part of the bonding experience for the Raiders (16-0), who use the trip to prepare for next week’s district playoffs.
The Raiders, ranked second in the nation by Elite Scouting Report and 12th by MaxPreps, have allowed just two goals all season. They have won 13 of their games by at least four goals.
The only time they have been challenged was when they went to Tallahassee Dec. 7-8 and won by 3-0 (Niceville), 3-1 (Episcopal) and 2-1 (George Jenkins).
This week, the Raiders will play a grueling four games in three days on the campus of Texas Christian University. They open with a 5 p.m. match on Thursday against California’s Liberty High.
Aquinas’ other three opponents are all from Texas: Kingwood at 10 a.m. Friday, Plano West at 4 p.m. Friday and Marcus at noon on Saturday. Plano West is ranked No. 1 in the nation by Elite Scouting Report, and Marcus is No. 4, although neither is listed in the MaxPreps poll.
This serves as a season-opening tournament for the Texas teams, but Raiders coach Carlos Giron doesn’t think that gives his team an advantage.
“Those teams have had a number of scrimmages that are just like games,” he said.
What will be a factor, Hoyt said, is the weather. Last year, the temperatures ranged from the 30s to the low 50s
“That’s freezing for us Florida girls,” Hoyt said. “They let us wear leggings and gloves. The tournament also provides a heater on the bench, and you will see all our girls clustered around it when they are not in the game.”
Hoyt said many of the girls’ family members are making the trip and added that her mom looked like the “Michelin Man” last year because she wore so many layers to keep warm.
Weather aside, Hoyt said the Raiders are taking the tournament seriously. Their season goals are to win their third consecutive state title and their second No. 1 national ranking in that same span.
Last season in Texas, Aquinas beat Marcus 1-0 but lost to Plano West by the same score.
“We have to redeem ourselves,” Hoyt said. “These games are really important to us.”
Win or lose, you can expect the Raiders to have fun and return to South Florida with some interesting stories. Such was the case a couple of years ago when the team took a late flight and arrived at a Fort Worth McDonald’s too late to be served.
“It was 11:59 p.m., and they closed the doors in our faces,” Hoyt said. “We ended up eating at a diner at 1 a.m.
“But we enjoyed it. Traveling together with your friends is the best thing almost. Hanging out in the hotel and knowing that we are one of the few teams at our school that can travel out of state is an incredible privilege, and we love it.”