April 27, 2014 Updated: April 27, 2014 at 7:45 pm
Every time Tess Thomas makes a highlight-reel save look mundane, St. Mary's coach Gregg Braha makes sure not to hoard the credit.
"I didn't think she would be our keeper honestly," Braha said.
But even the moves the 12th-year coach isn't making are paying off for the Pirates, who are one win away from clinching their seventh consecutive league title in girls' soccer.
On Monday, St. Mary's (11-1 overall, 7-0 3A Region 1) will face host Fountain Valley (10-2, 6-0) for the 3A Region 1 title.
"Tess, along with our other two senior captains, has really led this team from the start. I don't know where we'd be without her," Braha said. "I figured we'd have to use a goalie-by-committee system or something."
He never got the chance to though. After Thomas volunteered to move from forward to the net at the start of the year, she's unexpectedly cruised to one of the best seasons in 3A.
Right away, Thomas embraced the role, and started the season with three shutouts in her first four starts - including a 15-save performance in a 4-0 win against 3A power Holy Family.
She even felt at ease directing one of the state's stingiest defenses, which has allowed one or fewer shots in five games.
And because of it, she has recorded seven shutouts, nine wins and has allowed only six goals - none of which has come during league play.
"It's something that the team needed, so I took the job thinking that this was what I needed to do all season for us," said Thomas, who has 47 saves. "I knew I had to work at it so I could be good enough for us to compete for a league and a state title."
Fountain Valley is in the way of the former. For the second year in a row, the Danes and Pirates will meet late to decide the league winner and who will be a higher seed in the 3A postseason.
Last year, Fountain Valley lost to host St. Mary's 4-0 and then went on to fall in the first round of the 3A playoffs as a 20 seed to Liberty Common.
The Pirates, seeded fifth, went on to the quarterfinals before bowing out to Colorado Academy.
"We can't be intimidated by them just because of how much they've won (league) in the past," Danes first-year coach Byron Dacy said. "If we play the way we've been playing we will get a good result."
The game starts at 4:15 p.m. at Fountain Valley.