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‘Grit’ helps Villa Duchesne win field hockey title

It had been 10 years since Villa Duchesne won a state field hockey championship, falling several times in playoffs against Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS). The 2017 team from the Catholic high school believed the wait for a 10th championship was long enough.

The Saints fought hard against a tough MICDS team Oct. 28, battling to a 1-1 tie through two overtimes. They thought they'd won at the end of the second overtime, but referees ruled that the goal had occurred after time expired.

But Villa Duchesne scored twice in five tries during the shootouts to seal the 2-1 victory in the Midwest Field Hockey championship game at SportPort in Maryland Heights.

The team was prepared for the adversity because of the difficult games it had during the season, a shootout victory in semifinals against Nerinx Hall and knowing the need to "keep pushing ourselves because the game isn't over until the last call," said junior Hannah Touchette. "It helped us keep our composure and stay together as a team instead of freaking out."

The players had "an agenda to win," Touchette said, noting that the Saint's win was for its former players because of the past losses to MICDS.

Touchette noted that her sister played for Villa and lost to MICDS in the state finals. Her sister surprised her by coming to the game, and Touchette had extra incentive to win. "Their team was just as good as us and they lost," she said of her sister's squad. "We feel like this win is for our school, it's for all the players who went before us," she said.

Touchette said the victory also was for their coach, Kate Graft, and all she's done for them, pushing them to do their best.

Villa Duchesne got outstanding goaltending from senior Emma Deines, who was aggressive all game and at her best in the shootouts, swatting away the ball as soon as she could. "I had so many emotions running through my head," she said. "I focused on just one thing — I gotta go out and win this for my team."

The team worked hard all season to prepare for a championship game, Deines said. "It was great to come out here, battle hard and get the win."

Her play matched her teammates' toughness, she said. "We always say 'You gotta have grit, you gotta have heart.' We knew we had to fight for it, and we did. It's an amazing feeling."

Villa Duchesne finished the season with a 27-2 record and on a 19-game winning streak. Graft told them how proud she was of each one and how they "fought tooth and nail all season."

Graft praised her players for never quitting even if things don't go their way. They faced an MICDS team with "phenomenal players" but didn't back down.

After the goal was disallowed, her team saw it as just another adversity to overcome, Graft said. "We dealt with it, and just moved on."

Villa Duchesne's goal in regulation came from Taryn Tkachuk, who brought the ball in all alone. MICDS tied the game with about two minutes left in the first half after a series of calls went against Villa Duchense. Deines made several big saves, including a couple on breakaways, and Villa just missed on opportunities in the second half and in overtime.

Graft helped her team learn about how to deal with adversity. "When you miss a stroke, when you don't get to play as much as you want, when something just doesn't go your way, the way you react is what's going to determine the outcome of the game. If you pout, moan, give up, you're going to lose a game. Our attitude is to turn it and go, turn it into a positive. And that's what we did."

Prayer is a big thing as a team and individually, she said, and that relates to handling adversity as well. Junior Julia Hagan said she posted a prayer in a group chat before the game stating that they're playing for God and that "He's given us the power and strength to do everything we've done this season. We asked for the strength to get through that game."

Touchette said that in tight games such as the title game "you really feel that you have God with you when you're playing so hard in that moment."

Hagan agreed, adding that she thought to herself that "Right now, once we've won, it doesn't even feel real. But this was God. There's no other way I can explain the feeling other than to say God's with me right now."

MICDS beat Cor Jesu 1-0 in regulation in the semifinals of the Midwest Field Hockey tournament and Villa beat Nerinx 1-0 in shootouts. 

>> Volleyball champs

Volleyball teams from St. Joseph's Academy and St. Pius finished on top at the Missouri State High School Activities Association championships in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Oct. 27 and 28.

St. Joseph's Academy won the Class 4 title with a 25-20, 25-13 win over Ozark High School. St. Joseph's Morgan Smith had 10 kills and Gabrielle Blossom had 20 assists. The win was St. Joseph's ninth state volleyball title. Another Catholic high school from the archdiocese in Class 4, St. Dominic, finished fourth.

In Class 2, St. Pius defeated Strafford 23-25, 25-8 and 25-22 to win the championship. Emma Grimshaw had 15 kills to pace the Lancers, with Carley Nicholson getting 31 assists. Trisha Gaylord had nine kills and Kaylee Portell had eight. The win was St. Pius' second state title in a row and third overall. The team has played in the state's final four the last eight years.

In Class 1, Valle Catholic High School in St. Genevieve took third place after defeating Winona 25-15, 25-16.

In Class 3, Incarnate Word Academy finished fourth. 

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