CONWAY -- The future is bright for the Episcopal Collegiate girls soccer team, but Friday afternoon, it was all about the present.
Episcopal Collegiate defeated Central Arkansas Christian 3-0 behind Samantha De Luca's hat trick to win the Class 3A girls soccer state championship at Estes Stadium on Friday.
After covid-19 ended her freshman season, De Luca spent her sophomore season with a club team and after losing to Harding Academy in the Class 3A championship game while at Episcopal Collegiate in 2022, she will leave the school she's attended since the fifth grade as a state champion.
"I've only been with this team for two years, and I didn't realize that two years can be so monumental in my life," De Luca said. "I love these girls, and I love the coaches. It's just a great environment to be a part of."
De Luca opened the scoring with a goal in the 15th minute Friday. In the 32nd minute, she tapped in her second goal off an assist from freshman Heidi Sanders to take a 2-0 lead into halftime.
In the 44th minute, De Luca beat a defender and scored from 25 yards out into the opposite corner to give Episcopal Collegiate a 3-0 lead.
"Just watching her, it's a blessing being able to coach her," Episcopal Collegiate Coach Duke Ophof said. "She's a once-in-a-lifetime player for me. She's just unbelievable. ... It's going to be really hard to lose her."
With less than four minutes to go, Ophof sent a substitute to the fourth referee with De Luca headed the other way. She wasn't hurt or in need of a breather, Ophof just wanted to let her soak in the fans lining the stands of Estes Stadium one last time before she graduates and heads to play at Saint Louis University.
"The reason I pulled her is so that everybody can give her the applause she deserves," Ophof said. "It's been an emotional four years with her. But I'll watch her at Saint Louis because that's where she's going. She will be a star there."
Sanders assisted two of De Luca's three goals, helping to set up the other. De Luca's time with the Wildcats has come to a close but she and Ophof are excited to see what's in store for the years to come.
"She's gonna do great things," De Luca said. "She's only a freshman and she's insane. The girl's insane. Great person, great teammate and overall, amazing kid. I can't wait to see what she does [in the future].
"I think we left a legacy, for sure. Our team is amazing. It's going to be interesting to see if another team comes up and does."