BILLINGS – Laurel’s soccer girls are like every other Class A team in Montana — guys or girls. They’ve spent the past decade in the shadow of Billings Central’s dynasty, which owns eight of the last nine state titles.

The glaring difference? Laurel seems to be one push away from busting through that wall.

“We’ve made it to the state championship the last couple years and I think that’s always something we look forward to,” said Locomotives midfielder Aspen Cotter.

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Laurel’s girls have actually played in three straight title matches. They beat Columbia Falls to win it all three years ago before losing the last pair to Central, including a 2-1 nail-biter last November.

This year’s Locomotives are off to a perfect 6-0 start on a team loaded with youth. Twelve incoming freshmen fill the roster — eight of those on varsity.

“Yeah, we feel pretty good about it,” said veteran defender Carly McGrath. “We’re a young team, so I think it’s good to get that start, have the younger kids get a little confidence and get used to the rhythm on the field with all of us older kids.”

“Once we learn to play together, I think we’re going to be really good,” said Cotter.

An encouraging step in that direction was last weekend’s sweep over a pair of traditional western powers.

“Absolutely,” said head coach Aloma Jess, “that’s why we were glad to have these last two matches against Whitefish and Polson, because I think it sets the tone for the rest of our conference. Our girls have to play in that upper level of soccer if we’re going to survive in the Eastern A.”

The Locomotives are trying to replace a couple strong scoring graduates, which makes it even more critical to spread the field. And the wealth.

“I totally agree,” Cotter said. “We work as a team rather than depending on one person. There’s not one goal-scorer anymore. Everyone scores.”

“I’m carrying about 20 girls right now until playoffs, and I feel very comfortable that any of them can come off the bench and contribute,” said Jess.

“With all these freshmen, they’re just so talented,” agreed McGrath. “They can support the entire field, play all positions, so I think we’re pretty well-covered out there.”

Jess doesn’t recall the last time she felt comfortable subbing so many youthful players at Laurel.

“For the first time in many years, I know that I can substitute some defensive players and they’ll get in there and do the job and it will be just fine,” Jess said.

Laurel’s first meeting with Billings Central since last year’s title match is Sept. 21 in Laurel.

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