MISSOULA — In stoppage time against Hamilton on Tuesday, Loyola Sacred Heart's Tessa Burke found herself in the right place at the right moment.

What is it they say about luck? It's what happens when preparation meets opportunity? If you work hard, you make your own luck?

Something like that, anyhow. 

Luck might explain the bounce of the ball that ricocheted off a Hamilton defender after Loyola's Megan Neuman sent a last-ditch crossing pass with her team trailing 1-0 in the waning seconds at Rollin Field. It might explain how the soccer ball wound up rolling directly to Burke's right foot in a scoring position instead of somewhere else on the pitch.

But Burke's ability to gather the ball and score after everything worked out just right — to capitalize on the created opportunity — that's something else.

"Tessa is such a hard worker. She doesn't stop the whole game," Loyola soccer coach Stephanie Reardon said after Tessa's goal forced a 1-1 tie with the Breakers' Southern A rival. "She’s never not ready to go. She’s just always ready to seize those opportunities because she’s always thinking."

And always working — even if it's not on soccer.


Over the summer and now into the school year Burke has been working on a project separate from her three all-state sports she plays. At Loyola, students are required to perform "vision hours" or community service outside of school. Like most things, Burke goes above and beyond the requirements.

Aside from camps she's helped run with her teammate and friend, Syd Koppang — a lethal goal scorer in her own right — Burke serves on St. Patrick's junior board, helping to raise money for First Step, a resource center that helps children and adult victims of abuse or assault.

"It’s just a great cause and just knowing that there’s that many people that can use our help, and being able to raise money for them and be apart of something like that is special," Burke said.

She even took on a new service for her vision hours, one that may help her in future endeavors even if it did put her outside of her comfort zone.

Over the summer and now into the school year, Burke is helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

"It’s still a little weird. I’m not great with (construction), but they walk you through everything and it’s just cool to be apart of that, knowing you’re impacting someone’s family that much," said Burke, who has helped paint and put on siding, among other things while working on three different houses this year.

The grunt work is good, though, as Burke can see what goes into the building process. Someday she might be the one drawing up the blueprints.

Burke aspires to be an architect. She also dreams of playing basketball — one of her three sports — at the college level.

She's been working at both, though she's had a little help along the way.

"I grew up always playing against three older brothers," said Burke, the youngest of four siblings. "I definitely need to give them some credit for helping their sister with sports."


Being the little sister meant learning to get tough in a hurry.

"Early on we were playing '500' with my dad or something and she’d go out with us and get pushed around by her three older brothers trying to catch the football," Tessa's next oldest brother, Braden said. "I might knock her down or something and I’d just pause, see if she was going to be hurt, and she’d just stand right back up and keep playing with us.

"That happened plenty of times. I was always surprised at how willing she was to keep playing with us and keep going."

They weren't all mean; Tessa was their little sister, after all. At just a few years apart — Braden is a junior in Purdue University's engineering program — they learned to lean on each other.

"We always had this thing in high school where I couldn’t do art and she couldn’t do math so we’d always go back and forth," Tessa's brother said, laughing. "I’d help her with her math, and when it came to art, she’d do that for me."

The Burke kids grew close together, with Tessa calling to tell her brothers about her games — be it soccer, basketball or a track meet — each week.

"It’s every few weeks, we’ll catch up on everything," Braden said.

What he missed out on, though, was his sister catching him on the court. One summer, back from Purdue, Braden challenged his "little" sister to a basketball game. It wasn't like it used to be.

"... (We) go out there and play (basketball) and she just starts making shots on me, and it’s like, 'Wow' — it’s past the point of me being the athletic child. She’s passed me up," Tessa's brother said with a chuckle.

She's passing by statewide competition, too.


With Tuesday's goal, Burke leads the Southern A in total points and goals with 19 and 8, respectively, according to leaguelineup.com/nwmta. Last season in basketball, she led her Breakers in scoring and she was a Top 5 finisher at the Class B state track meet in the 100-meter hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump.

Although she's been training with Stephen Pfahler specifically for basketball in her effort to play in college, Tessa says the extra work has paid off in all her sports.

It shows on the soccer field, where she takes particular pride in her effort.

In 2015, Loyola finished 0-10-2, according to missoulapreps.com. Last season the Breakers improved to 5-9 overall and clinched the playoffs. Tessa had 17 goals and five assists in the all-state season. As she's worked, her Breakers and fellow seniors — Julia Johnson, Morgan Nicholson, Kenna Guenther and Molly Miltko — have grown along with her.

"Tessa works so hard in everything she does. She’s the kind of soccer player that you want," Reardon said. "She’s working beyond practice. She’s showing everyone what hard work does and how it pays off."

That time Burke's put in on the field has helped build up a soccer program, something that makes the senior beam with pride.

In a way, it's similar to when she puts the final coat of paint on a house.

"It’s been good to be a part of just building those programs. There’s a lot of good underclassmen I hopefully helped mentor a little bit," Tessa said.

And the work has helped manufacture a little "luck" for Loyola, too.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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