Varsity Soccer

St. James, St. Thomas Aquinas play to thriller in state 5A championship soccer match

St. James Academy girls soccer team
St. James Academy girls soccer team @SJA_Gameday/Twitter

With 59.6 seconds left, Caylee Thornhill made school history.

Thornhill, the St. James Academy senior who is committed to Kansas State, found the back of the net in the final minute of the 2019 Kansas Class 5A state championship game to give the Thunder a 1-0 win over rival St. Thomas Aquinas on Sunday in Emporia.

“I don’t know how it got to her,” St. James coach Mark Twellman said. “Caylee has got elite speed and was able to poke it through the defense, get it past their goalie and put it away. ... That last minute was the longest of my life. I was getting the feeling in my stomach that something was about to happen, and it could have gone either way.”

It marks St. James Academy’s first girls soccer title since 2011 and its first since Class 5A separated from 4-1A the same year.

The Thunder had a wild regular season but came to life once the elimination games hit.

St. James entered the 2019 postseason with a 10-6-0 record but proved worthy of playing for a championship, with massive wins over Blue Valley West, the 6A champion; Bishop Miege, the 4-1A champion; and Aquinas, the team the Thunder faced Saturday.

Facing Aquinas the first time was just as thrilling. April 11, the Thunder went on the road and pulled out a 2-1 sudden-victory win over the Saints in overtime. Twellman said it was the first time St. James had ever beaten its rival in the regular season.

“It was a monkey off our back and a lot of confidence knowing that we beat them once already,” Twellman said, “and that we could do it again.”

St. James was on a three-game losing streak entering the postseason and flipped a switch and outscored its opponents 27-1.

  • vs. KC Schlagle: 11-0 (Regional Semifinal)
  • at Sumner Academy: 8-0 (Regional Championship)
  • at Spring Hill: 5-1 (State Quarterfinal)
  • vs. Valley Center: 2-0 (State Semifinal)
  • vs. St. Thomas Aquinas: 1-0 (State Championship)

Twellman said even through the three-game losing streak, he liked the way his group played and felt confident going into the postseason. With injuries and other challenges the Thunder had to work through in that final stretch, many players had to step up in unorthodox situations, he said.

“And that paid dividends in these last five games,” Twellman said.

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