‘The sequel was better than the original!’ Aquinas girls soccer wins second straight GHSA state championship

‘The sequel was better than the original!’ Aquinas girls soccer wins second straight GHSA state championship

The sequel may be even better than the original. The Aquinas High School girls soccer team once against reigns supreme in its class. The Fighting Irish won its second straight Georgia High School Association 1A DII state championship with a 2-1 win over Lake Oconee Academy. Hundreds of Aquinas fans made the trip to Macon, Georgia to watch the girls defend their title at Five Star Stadium on the campus of Mercer University.

Aquinas owned a 2-1 lead at halftime after a hard fought first 40 minutes of play. Freshman Mary Jane Knight opened the scoring just under the 10 minute mark, and junior Elle Morris scored the eventual game-winner 22 minutes later. Senior goalkeeper Katie Welsh and the Irish defense held strong in the second half to preserve the win.

“This journey has been so special,” said Aquinas head coach Sean Brandes after the win. “I didn’t think we were going to be here again after the way the season started. But as I said before, don’t judge us on how we start, judge us on how we finish.”

Aquinas assistant coach Riley Washington played at Aquinas, and now has two state championships as a member of the coaching staff. “It’s even better than the first, because this group has worked so hard to get back where we came from last year, we have lost five seniors and then another player was hurt,” said Washington. “We have five new starters this year and everybody has picked it up so much so we can get back to this place right now,” added Washington.

The 2023 state championship marked the first in program history. It capped an unprecedented undefeated season for Aquinas, which went winless as a program the season prior in 2022. This year’s state championship run featured more adversity than the first according to those within the program, elevating the appreciation of going back-to-back for the coaching staff and players.

“The sequel was way better than the original,” said Aquinas assistant coach Andres Jarvis. “The ending was the same. But believe me, it was all the trials and tribulations all the way up till today. But these girls overcame, and what can I say? We’re state champs,” added Jarvis.

“It feels amazing,” said senior captain Landry Washington. “This year was a little bit tougher than last year, but it’s just, these girls are just great. We really worked hard this whole playoffs and it was just great,” said Washington.

Fellow senior captain Emma Kate Noegel echoed that same sentiment. “Yeah, definitely, this was a lot younger group, so coming out and just working as a team and really growing together and being able to win state is, I think, better than the first time,” said Noegel. “It’s so amazing,” she added.

Aquinas goalkeeper Katie Welsh believes the back-to-back championships will fuel future Fighting Irish teams towards the same goal. “I mean, I just feel so honored to be a part of this team,” said Welsh. “You know, how hard that we’ve worked, and to know that we get to inspire a whole generation of younger girls that get to look up to us and see that they can do this, that with hard work, they can achieve anything. And I think we are proof of that,” said Welsh.

Aquinas will graduate four seniors from this year’s state championship team in Washington, Noegel, Welsh and Amelia Donald, who leave with a 24-5 record and two state championship rings the last two seasons, after a winless campaign in 2022.

The program’s turnaround is complete, and the foundation for a dynasty has been laid.

“I can’t wait for the future of Aquinas girls soccer,” said Welsh.

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