BILLINGS – Laurel players knew how to do it.
They’d beaten Billings Central each of the past two regular seasons – only to lose to Central in the state championship – which is what made last October so sweet.
“I put out individual role sheets every year,” said Laurel coach Aloma Jess. “The girls fill that out, ‘What do you expect to get out of the season?’ Every year, they say, ‘Win a championship, beat Central, beat Central in a championship.'”
A 2-0 win on Central’s home field in last year’s title match was about as good as it could get for the Locomotives.
“It was our time, and then after beating them, it made it even better,” recalled Laurel midfielder Aspen Cotter.
“Just to come back and beat them was a big accomplishment,” said teammate Paige Ventling. “I think we grew a lot over the season, just as a team and together.”
And Laurel brought just about everybody back, with one big exception: four-year starting goalkeeper Paige O’Toole. But a pair of freshmen – Mya Hansen and Madi Peaton – have stepped in seamlessly.
“I was really nervous with that,” admitted defender Jaela Hoppel, “but then when I watched the new goalies coming in, I was ok with it.”
“The freshmen that have come in, they have surprised me,” said midfielder Kaitlyn Dawes. “They’re stepping into big shoes, and I think they’re doing well.”
Laurel has allowed just six goals in seven matches, but is staring down its biggest test.
Central has scored 62 goals in its seven games. Twenty-nine of those goals have come from the state’s best striker, Morgan Ferestad.
“It’s really fun to play with her,” said Rams midfielder Chloe Paharik. “Her hard work and determination are everything you look for in a teammate, and I think that’s just really fun. And her energy is contagious when you play with her.”
Central will test Laurel’s freshmen early and often, but the Rams know they’ll also be tested, which hasn’t happened much this year.
“I think we’re going to be getting a lot more pressure than we usually do,” Rams defender Tess Hansen said. “We’re both aggresive and we both play at a high level, so when we play each other, it’s a good game.”
Thursday’s match is set for 3 p.m. back at Rocky Mountain College and one can bet the Rams haven’t forgotten what happened last time.
“I think sometimes we try to forget it and focus on one day at a time, what’s in front of us, because that’s in the past and we can’t change it,” Hansen said. “But it’s definitely a bit of a motivation.”