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Sophomore Lauren Sestak helped McNeese State tie nationally-ranked Baylor earlier this year. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Sophomore Lauren Sestak helped McNeese State tie nationally-ranked Baylor earlier this year. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Sestak, Cowgirls have highs and lows

Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 2:45 PM

By Albert Burford / American Press

Heading into its game against McNeese, the No. 7 Baylor soccer team had scored 19 goals in seven matches. The Bears’ offense tried to replicate that torrid pace, ripping off 32 shots in the contest. But Baylor met its match in McNeese, as sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Sestak saved all 17 shots on target and the Cowgirls fought to a 0-0 double overtime tie on a sweltering afternoon in Waco on Sept. 15.

The tie snapped Baylor’s 13-game home winning streak and built on McNeese’s strong start to the season. It was the Cowgirls’ first tie or victory against a nationally-ranked team in program history.

McNeese had lost its five previous games against Baylor, including a 5-0 defeat last season.

“Going into it, we know we’re a different team this year,” Sestak said. “We’re a lot stronger. We fight a lot harder. We all kind of felt like there was a chance we could have the outcome we wanted. We knew where we stood and how Baylor looked at us.

“We knew they would underestimate us. They’re seventh in the nation and we’re like seventh in the conference. We went out there trying to prove ourselves and we did.”

Sestak earned plenty of accolades for her performance, earning National Team of the Week honors and Southland Conference Goalkeeper of the Week, among others. The national honor was the first for a McNeese player in program history.

“I’m getting all these honors and it’s cool, but I just did my job,” she said. “My team in front of me, even the ones that didn’t get to step on the field, they all were a part of this game. Everyone was in it. There were times where I messed up and I had players come in and clear balls.”

Last weekend the Cowgirls and Sestak were brought back down to earth, losing a pair of conference matches.

“It was a tough weekend,” Savoie said. “The shots that went in for us before didn’t. The ones we stopped before, we didn’t.”

But there are still plenty of games to go for Sestak and the Cowgirls, and this program will still be able to build on the Baylor game.

McNeese coach Scooter Savoie said Sestak did a good job of knowing when to play within herself and when to take a chance to cut off a dangerous cross or make a big play against Baylor.

On some teams, a 17-save shutout performance against a top-10 team may solidify a keeper as a starter. But Savoie said his rotation of goalkeepers has served his team well so far and he will continue to play whoever is playing best when the games come around. Sestak doesn’t mind. In fact, she enjoys it.

“Honestly, it’s great,” she said of the competition. “One of the hardest things as a player is getting comfortable where you are. This is an important job. You can’t just have someone getting comfortable. It’s great because (goalkeeper coach Trey Jones) doesn’t allow us to do that. He’s always pushing us to outwork each other. We all push each other so we can excel and get better as a group.”

The keeper spot opened up this season after last season’s starter graduated.

Sestak, fellow sophomore Maggie Marks, and freshman Annie Bravenec, have all seen time in the net this season.

“All of the keepers are young and I think they’ve stepped up really well this year,” said senior defender Callie Allbright. “They’ve earned the trust from their teammates and us on the field. That’s a big part of it. We have to have trust in our keeper.”

The Sestak name is no stranger to honors at McNeese. Tom Sestak, Lauren’s grandfather’s cousin, played football for the Cowboys in the late 1950s and early 60s before going on to a career in the American Football League. Lauren said her grandmother told her she had a relative that played football for the Cowboys.

“I thought, ‘oh that’s kind of cool,’” she said. “But I talked to other relatives and they said he’s in the Hall of Fame, he was a big deal there.”

Some teachers still ask her if she knew Tom when they see “Sestak” on their attendance sheet. Lauren never met him personally, but said she knows her grandfather and Tom were friends.

For now, she’s doing her part to keep the Sestak name relevant at McNeese.

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