Sterlington is looking to build on its success after winning the first playoff game and the first district championship in the program's five-year history.
Sterlington bowed out of the Division IV girls soccer state playoffs with a 4-0 loss to Episcopal of Acadiana on Friday, Feb. 9.
From coach Lori Bruscato's point of view, the loss hardly put a damper on a breakthrough season.
"We just ran into a team that was better than us," Bruscato said. "The girls played so hard. They could definitely walk off the field with their heads held high, not only for the effort they gave in the last game, but for what they accomplished the whole season."
The Lady Panthers (16-6-1) gave Bruscato, the only coach in the program's five-year history, plenty of reasons to be proud.
Besides notching their first playoff win, the Lady Panthers earned their highest seed at No. 6, captured their first district championship and set school records for victories and goals.
Coming off of a first-round bye, the Lady Panthers blanked Houma Christian 1-0 in the second round. Freshman Allison Guerriero scored the first postseason goal in team history to send Sterlington into the quarterfinal round.
"We won our first playoff game, and scored our first playoff goal, for that matter," Bruscato said. "Our first playoff win was definitely a big accomplishment."
Sterlington's quarterfinal trip to Lafayette turned into an adventure. With a suspected criminal in the area, Episcopal of Acadiana was placed on lockdown and the game was eventually moved from the school to a city park.
"I have never seen anything quite like it to be honest," Bruscato said. "I received a text from their coach at about 1:15. The way he put it, it was a traffic stop gone bad, and the guy ran from the police. We were still about an hour away, so I figured it would be cleared up by then. But they still hadn't caught the guy when we got there."
Eventually, the game's venue was changed twice and the starting time was delayed from 4 p.m. to 5:30.
"It was 3:45 before they started dismissing students to their parents," Bruscato said. "The first field we went to in the park was a grass field. They ended up moving us to a turf field, which was huge."
Bruscato said the pregame ordeal had no bearing on the outcome of the game.
"It was a crazy day to say the least, but none of that mattered. They were the better team, no doubt about it," Bruscato said. "I was proud of the way our kids handled that, too. They just kind of rolled with it."
On the pitch, Sterlington goalkeeper Ana Hodnett made numerous saves to keep the game from getting out of hand.
"It could have been worse, but our girls played so hard the entire game," Bruscato said.
Semifinal games will be played Friday. Episcopal of Acadiana (12-2-5), the No. 3 seed, travels to No. 2 Ascension Episcopal, while No. 9 New Orleans Sacred Heart is at No. 4 Isidore Newman.
For the Lady Panthers, the next step is to build on their success.
"It was a fun year," Bruscato said, "and I'm looking forward to next year being another fun year."
Seniors Noor Sheikh-Khalil, Chandler Manning and Raylee Butler played their final game for the Lady Panthers. Sterlington will be looking to replace a total of five players as sisters Maddie and Kendal Merrell are relocating to South Carolina at the end of the school year.
"We lost three good seniors, plus the Merrells, but I am really excited about the team we have coming back," Bruscato said. "We have a lot of young talent. It's a good group of kids and a good group of parents. They have fun, and they like to play soccer."
Returning for next season along with Hodnett and Guerriero are Alyssa Tucker, Madelyn Bozeman, Maddie Lawhon, Kayla Dahlum, Lauren Wright, Gray Grunsky, Emarie Adams, Emma Grace Brister, Alli Whitlock, Bel Coley, Chloe Snell, Abigail Raley, Shelby Moore and Hannah Jerkins.