By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The last thing that Kim Looney, the 15-year veteran head coach of Valley Christian High’s girls soccer team, wanted was for her California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division VI wild card game to be decided by penalty kicks. It happened last season in a wild card loss to Lakeside High and from the way things were going against Arroyo High this past Tuesday evening, the thoughts of another overtime game and potentially penalty kicks were on the minds of many.
But senior midfielder Chloe Garris had other thoughts in this contest where shots were at a premium. The leading scorer for the Lady Crusaders last season scored in the 72nd minute and it held up in a 1-0 victory. V.C. advanced to the first round where it faced Heritage League champion Santa Clarita Christian High on Feb. 18. For Garris, it was just her third goal of the season but first since Dec. 18.
“Last year I played more up top and this year, playing outside mid, I’ve definitely seen fewer goals than what I’ve scored,” Garris said. “Every opportunity I’m trying to take advantage of. Being a senior this year, every single moment counts.”
“I knew that their keeper, if we had to go to PK’s…she was stronger in the goal than what ours was,” Looney said. “So I knew we couldn’t go to PK’s today. It was up to my offense to take care of business within the minutes played.”
V.C. took just five shots on goal in the game with Garris having a hand in three of them. In the 14th minute, her shot off a pass from senior defender Sarah Petrus was saved by Arroyo goalkeeper Jessica Mendoza. In the 25th minute, sophomore defender Marysa Garner took a free kick behind and off to the right side of the penalty box which curved to Garris where her shot was too high.
But on the goal, she wasn’t even supposed to be in the picture. Garner took a corner kick which went to junior forward Kelly McKittrick. Her header was knocked back to Garris who happened to be in the right place at the right time and simply knocked it in.
“It was suppose to be a dummy,” Garris said. “[Sophomore midfielder] Lauren Castillo was supposed to dummy it to me. Right as soon as Marysa put her hand up to go in, they yelled three. I just kind of backed up and was like, ‘well, I’m garbage so let’s see what happens’. It hit off of Kelly’s face and came out and I was scared [my shot] was going to go over. But I kept it down and our players just stepped out of the way.”
Looney said that she wanted to run one play but switched to another play at the last second after seeing how Arroyo’s defense was set up.
“Chloe wants the ball all the time,” Looney said. “If my kids have learned anything from Chloe, it’s that she wants the ball constantly. Chloe is going to make sure she touches the ball at all times. I knew tonight if we were going to score, it was more than likely going to be Chloe.”
The Lady Crusaders, who have been in an offensive funk over the past 10 games, had two other chances to put the ball past Mendoza. With five minutes remaining in the first half, sophomore forward Julie Sainz sent a beautiful cross to the center of the goal box, only to see Mendoza punch the ball out. Then in the 53rd minute, Sainz sent another cross through the middle of the box, but no one was there to take a shot on goal. In the last 10 games, V.C. has scored just a goal in eight of those games and was held to none in the other two. During that time, the Lady Crusaders went 4-3-3 including the win over Arroyo.
“One of our Achilles Heel this season has been scoring,” Looney said. “That’s on our minds constantly. So when you keep pushing and keep doing what you’re supposed to do and we keep pushing the ball forward and my defense keeps picking up the ball, it’s tough. These kids know how to keep fighting.”
Even though the offense has been struggling (28 goals in 22 games), the defense has been holding its own for the most part. Senior goalkeeper Isabel Applequist has posted eight shutouts and allowed one goal three other times.
“The defense has been amazing this year,” Garris said. “Carli [Domino] is only a sophomore and I just watch her every time and I know that no one is going to get past her. She’s incredible. I play with Marysa mostly on the outside and working with her…she doesn’t even play club and coming out here every day, she’s dominating. Sarah Petrus is dominating too and [sophomore] Caitlyn [Ward] is always our stopper. This year she’s one of our main players.”
After coaching her team to six straight Olympic League championships, Looney has seen V.C. finish in third place the past two seasons with sub .500 records. Last season was the first time in over 22 years that V.C. had a losing season. Part of that could be attributed to the youth that the Lady Crusaders have had recently. This season’s team has nine sophomores, three freshmen, three seniors and two juniors. Sainz leads the team with nine goals with freshman midfielder Kennedy Wesley adding eight goals. Three of the four defenders who started against Arroyo are sophomores.
“Come back and watch them in two years,” Looney said. “They’ll be amazing. That’s what it is. They’re youthful, they’re hustlers, they want to work but they just don’t have the strength and maturity yet. Give them next year; we’re going to make a little bit more noise in league. And give them two years, we’re going to be back on top where Valley Christian is supposed to be.
“We’ve been working hard to get to .500; it just wasn’t working our way,” Looney later added. “But this team…this record does not reflect who they are. So I knew if we could get out of this game and get to the main bracket, we could make some noise, and we can. We’re just going to be that team that’s going to slowly come through and is going to go game by game.”
A Lady Crusaders win over Santa Clarita Christian will send them into the second round where they will play either Grand Terrace High or Rancho Christian High on Tuesday.
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