DENHAM SPRINGS – There wasn’t any doubt Denham Springs senior Will Chevalier wanted to end his high school soccer career playing last Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana’s Strawberry Stadium.
That's the venue for this year’s LHSAA high school soccer championships, but when the Yellow Jackets’ historic run in the state playoffs came to end in last week’s state semifinals, that meant Chevalier would have to settle for the next best thing.
Chevalier was the latest in a line of standout senior players that represented Denham Springs in the LHSCA/LHSSCA High School All-Star game, helping the East to a 3-1 victory and earning the game's overall MVP award.
“The all-star game’s a cool idea,” said Chevalier, the lone player from Livingston Parish selected to play in the game. “All the best seniors in the state get to play together one last time. It should be fun to be able to showcase our talents.”
The contest, featuring the state’s top 44 graduating seniors, will also provide Chevalier and Denham Springs soccer coach Chris Thorne one final opportunity to be a part of another competitive high school match with Thorne serving as an assistant coach for the East All-Star team.
It’s been quite a run for the duo since Chevalier, one of the program’s top career goal scorers, entered the program four years ago with plenty of promise and became a fixture in Thorne’s starting lineup throughout his career.
“They always say it flies by, but it truly flew by,” Chevalier said. “It’s kind of nuts to think about it. It feels like I was a freshman a couple of days ago. Now it’s all done.
“At first, my freshman year, I was definitely shy and nervous,” Chevalier said. “Once I started getting playing time and some key minutes, I started earning the respect from the older guys and that helped.”
Chevalier entered a program that was making a steady climb up the Division I ladder before the Yellow Jackets truly took off during Chevalier’s sophomore season – starting a stretch of three consecutive 20-plus win seasons and making a pair of state quarterfinal appearances.
That was eclipsed, though, during Chevalier’s final season where after saying farewell to a 12-member senior class the previous year Denham Springs, which introduced eight to nine sophomores in a variety of roles, overcame a slow 5-5 start to register the program’s first appearance in a state semifinal which ended in a 5-1 setback district rival Catholic High.
“I think it’s crazy how we made the semis this year,” Chevalier said. “Everybody was doubting on us after losing 12 seniors. They thought we were going to have a big drop off and it turns out we made history as far as Denham’s made it.”
Chevalier recalled an early-season conversation with Thorne about the team’s long-term prospects after the Yellow Jackets won only five of their first 10 games.
“It definitely started shaky at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It was kind of scary talking to coach Thorne and whether we would finish in the top flight (Top 24 qualify for postseason). I was shocked. I said, ‘we’ve got the playoffs’. It was nerve-racking and not knowing if we would make the jump and we finished up the season strong.”
Suddenly Chevalier, one of six seniors and a tri-captain along with Conelly Herrin and Luke Turner, found himself delving back to the talks about leadership he enjoyed with former players such as Camron Hamby and Collin Turner.
Now it was Chevalier’s turn to provide the same type of guidance those players provided for him and the results were staggering. The Yellow Jackets went on a nine-match winning streak, reeled off 12 wins in 13 outings and finished with a 4-0 victory at eventual Division II state runner-up St. Thomas to wrap up the District 3-I title and the school’s highest seed – No. 2 – going into the playoffs.
“I tried to guide the younger guys into seeing what it’s like to be successful,” he said. “I tried to motivate them to play big for the seniors. I think after we won the St. Michael’s tournament, we realized that we could do it. We had a lot of doubters, but I knew we could do it.”
Following an opening-round bye Chevalier snapped a scoreless tie in the second round against Grace King, burying a penalty kick that led to a four-goal flurry, in which he scored again in a 4-0 victory.
Denham Springs was able to scale the state quarterfinal hump, traveling to Captain Shreve for a 2-1 victory, before returning home to play in its first semifinal opposite Catholic High.
“The previous years, to fall a little short, kind of helped to give you a lesson to learn for the next year,” Chevalier said of the previous two state quarterfinal losses. “Hopefully the younger guys take this is as a learning lesson, build on it and feel motivated for future years.”
Over the past four seasons Denham Springs went 86-27-10 with four straight postseason trips and Chevalier enjoyed a decorated career that included a Division I All-State selection last year and the District 3-I co-MVP award this season.
Chevalier, who will make an official visit to LSU Eunice next week, enjoyed career highs this past season in goals (32) and assists (12), including a highwater mark in which he scored six times with a hat trick in each half against Central.
He wound up 87 goals – ranking him among the school’s top five all-time scorers – to go along with 35 assists.
“There were a lot of role models when I came in and seeing the success that they wanted, motivated me to kind of do it for them as I got older,” Chevalier said. “There were a lot of guys that helped teach me the ropes in high school soccer and hopefully I did the same for the younger guys.”