Lourdes soccer coach Ray Walden remembers how he felt years ago when he watched one of his teams get handled at state by a nationally ranked opponent.
Walden wondered then if his team would ever be able to truly compete for a state championship.
Seven years later, the Bobcats are ready.
With the same sharp skill and technique it has displayed throughout the season, Lourdes handled another of the state’s best Friday night, routing Palm Beach Central 4-0 in a Class 5A state semifinal at Columbus.
The Bobcats (20-2) advanced to their first state final by scoring four second-half goals, including three in a 20-minute span against the Broncos (21-2), who were three days removed from eliminating defending national champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
Lourdes has now outscored its opponents 107-3 in 22 matches and 24-0 in six playoff matches.
“On this team now, everybody is playing well,” Walden said. “You just can’t point to one single player. It’s great to see.”
The result ended with the Bobcats celebrating with their fans, who rushed the field for the second game in a row.
Lourdes will play Oviedo in the Class 5A final at 4 p.m. next Saturday at Melbourne High School. The Bobcats became the first Dade team to reach the final in the sport’s largest classification since Coral Gables in 2000.
Lourdes will try to win its first state title in any sport other than cross-country. Before Friday, it had only reached the state finals twice in basketball.
The victory coupled with Gulliver’s win in Class 2A on Friday also gave Dade two teams in the girls’ soccer state finals in the same season for the first time.
“I figured it would take a few years for us or other Miami-Dade County teams to be able to compete with teams like these,” Walden said. “It took us about seven years, but the club coaching has improved, and the girls have gotten much better.’’
Lourdes clearly looked like the better team in an onslaught of second-half offense led by sophomore Michelle Figarola and junior Rebecca Alvarez that overwhelmed Palm Beach Central. Figarola had two goals, and Alvarez had one goal and an assist.
But the victory might not have been possible had it not been for two great saves by goalkeeper Jenny Herold right before halftime, including a stop one-on-one on Broncos’ star forward and Florida State-bound Yulie Lopez.
After a scoreless first half, Figarola put Lourdes on the board by heading in a corner kick from Alvarez seven minutes into the half. Figarola sealed things late with a fourth goal as she caught up to the ball just before it rolled out of bounds near the goal and angled it past the goalkeeper.
“Jenny and our defenders are our safety net every game,” Figarola said. “We always feel safe because we know they are back there keeping us in the game.”
Alvarez added one of her own a few minutes after Figarola’s first score with a perfectly placed shot to the far side out of reach of Palm Beach Central goalie Hailey Brunner.
Lourdes senior Bailey Plummer, the team’s leading scorer, got into the act with 14:40 left with a well-timed shot on another rush up field.