LAUREL -- After guiding the Laurel Locomotives to seven straight Class A state championship matches and winning three of the last four, girls soccer coaches Aloma Jess and Val Nauman are saying goodbye.
Fresh off back-to-back state titles, the longtime coaches gathered players on Wednesday to confirm their decisions.
"We've actually been talking about it for a while," Jess told MTN Sports.
"When we saw this group of seniors as sixth graders, we wondered if we could make it this far," she continued with a laugh. "The timing is just right. I still plan on watching the girls, but I really look forward to hiking, biking and boating through the summer and fall. I love whitewater rafting."
Jess started coaching Laurel's girls in 1999. Nauman joined her in 2003.
"I told the girls I'd be at as many games as possible," Nauman said to MTN Sports. "It was cool to build those relationships. I still have former players calling and sending wedding invitations. I coached the defense but felt so many personal connections.
"I love to hunt, and my husband and I have never been able to visit the East Coast to watch the fall colors turn, so I think we'll finally do that."
Laurel delivered its most recent State A championship in October, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the final 11 minutes of regulation to stun Whitefish 3-2 in overtime. It was the first time Laurel clinched a title on its home field.
The Locomotives defeated rival Billings Central 2-0 to win it all in 2019 and by the same final in 2017. Laurel's only championship loss in the past four years was against the Rams in 2018. That match was scoreless through both regulation and overtime before Central earned a shootout victory.
Laurel captured its first State A girls championship with a 2-0 road win over Columbia Falls in 2014.
"I think back to 1999 when we just threw together a team," Jess recalled. "We had one foreign exchange student, I think from Japan, and she was fast. But we only scored one goal all season. To develop from there into a growing program, and eventually into a championship team, was very rewarding.
"Kudos to all the girls who laid the groundwork."