Entering the Division IV playoffs, the Catholic High Panthers soccer team is the second seed, which means that CHS will be home throughout the postseason, until the state finals which will be in Hammond Feb. 29.
And with a first-round bye, CHS gets to get some much needed rest before playing 15th seed Northlake Christian, which beat 18th seed Calvary Baptist 2-1 Friday in the first-round, Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
For CHS, it’s been a team effort to get to this point, but first-year Catholic High boys soccer coach Troy Arceneaux has had plenty of help from three key players — captains Ben Tarantino and Hunter Champagne, and JP Theriot.
“These three guys, two of which are captains, all have given so much to the team this season,” Arceneaux said. “From a leadership role to energy, they are the backbones. And when it all boils down to it, when the going gets tough, you can always depend on these players.”
Arceneaux also lauded another captain, Jason Van Duzee, as part of that group that can be counted on when push comes to shove.
Tarantino, Champagne, Van Duzee and Theriot are all seniors on the team, part of a huge 15 member strong senior class, that, as the third seed last season, advanced all the way to the semifinals before falling to long-time nemesis Isidore Newman 1-0.
“We remember that from last year,” said Tarantino. “That was one of the reasons that we worked so hard this year to be a top seed, so that we could have home-field advantage and have Newman come to us this time.”
For most of the season, Catholic High was in the fourth, fifth, sixth seed spot but a late surge of six wins in its last seven games was enough for the Panthers to leap past Newman and into the second seed, the highest seed since CHS was the top seed in Division IV in 2017.
“It’s been a good season,” Tarantino said. “We started off average but we picked it up towards the end with a couple of big wins that allowed us to get to No. 2.
“We’re looking good right now. It was a good surprise to me to get to No. 2. We were right behind Newman and we passed them with our win against North Vermilion.
“It means that all of our playoff games are going to be at home.”
Where CHS has a decided home field advantage.
“We have great fans and we have a great, loud student section that comes out to support us. That itself is enough reason for us to play our best at home.”
What also has helped Catholic High is the fact that finally, at the right time, the team is healthy and peaking on the soccer pitch.
“We’ve had our ups and our downs, we’re had injuries this year,” Arceneaux said. “We’ve refocused and are bouncing back from those injuries.
“The goal was always to be one of the top seeds. We were hoping to get the work done and be district champs as well. But plans down’t always work out. We let that slide with one slow start against one team. But we also know that we don’t have to be district champs to be state champs.
“The team is now focused on the prize at hand — to make it to the state finals.”
The Panthers (9-6-5 overall) are ready for a playoff run.
“I think that we are happy to try to finish the job this year,” said Tarantino, who was part of that 2017 teams that entered the playoff as the top-seed.. “We feel that we can play with anyone.”
Champagne felt that while Catholic High was good enough for a top seed, he didn’t think that it would happen.
“No,” he said. “We felt like we could get there if we put in the work at practice and we did put in the work to get that seed.”
As a freshman on the 2017 team that was the top seed in the playoffs, Champagne knew that we wanted a chance to get back to that level.
“We have a great group of guys and we have a great group of seniors,” Champagne said. “We put in the work over these past three years to get back to this level.”
He’s another players looking forward to some home cooking in the playoffs.
“Everyone knows that Catholic High has a very energetic student section,” he said. “They bring a lot of energy to the field and it rubs off on us.
“It give us a positive attitude during the games.”
What Champagne does think is that last year’s experience has prepared the Panthers for a run this season.
“We weren’t inexperienced last year, we were all juniors,” Champagne said. “What we didn’t have was the experience of being in that situation of the semifinals on the road.
“Now we know what to expect and I don’t feel that we’re going to be caught like that again.”
Theriot feels that the struggles the team has been through this year have toughened them for a playoff run.
“We started well, then kind of went into a slump, kind of changed our games a little bit and have been playing well,” Theriot said. “As long as we take it one game at a time, not look ahead or get ahead of ourselves, we should be good for the playoffs.”
All three are not worrying about bringing home gold or silver just year.
“No, we’re just worrying about Northlake Christian,” Theriot said. “We would like to get to the finals and cement our legacy here but for now, we’re just concentrating on that first playoff game.”