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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
It was only a matter of time before the Valley Christian High girls soccer team would really face adversity, as in actually trailing. The Lady Crusaders had not trailed in a game since Dec. 16, which was also their last loss.
So, there was reason to be a little concerned when V.C. was down 1-0 to Jurupa Hills High in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 6 quarterfinal playoff game last Friday night. But then came the equalizer, followed by sophomore midfielder Christina Pollard’s game-winner as time was winding down and the Lady Crusaders escaped with a hard fought 2-1 win.
How unusual were things against the Spartans? Since Dec. 29, V.C. had only yielded one goal, which game on Feb. 9 at Heritage Christian High. Also, the Lady Crusaders had not played in a scoreless first half since Jan. 4 when their game with St. Anthony finished in a scoreless tie.
“We’ve been trying to prepare our kids the last two weeks,” said V.C. head coach Kim Looney. “This is not normal; this is not normal to win 5-0, 7-0. When you get to the quarters, it changes. We were getting ready for that. We spent a lot of time on tactical situations yesterday being down a goal, being tied, being in overtime.”
“The whole last six minutes was so full of hesitation and anxiety,” Pollard said. “We were really pushing and pushing 110 percent. For the last couple of minutes, I did struggle a bit. But I did redeem myself at the end and it was just full of excitement. I couldn’t have done it without my teammate [freshman midfielder] Megan [Bouma]. It was just a team play and I just love my team very much.”
With the score tied and six minutes remaining in regulation, Pollard received a flick off a free kick but missed a open left side of the net when her shot sailed to the left of the post. Then with a minute remaining, she took a hard shot inside the goal box, only to see it get saved by Marilu Armas. But seconds later and as stoppage time was approaching, Pollard took a pass from Bouma and connected on the biggest of her seven goals this season.
“I saw that the ball has been crossed and Megan had the ball,” Pollard said. “Then I thought to go in the box just in case she was going to cross it back. When she crossed it back, I had to focus on hitting the ball low and hard away from the goalie. Right when I did that, it just went straight in.”
“Christina is a competitor by nature,” Looney said. “She is very hard on herself and she expects a lot from herself and her team. There were three shots on goal. You can’t yell at Christina. You just have to tell her she’s there and she’s going to get it in.”
The first half was completely dominated by the Olympic League champion Lady Crusaders, the second ranked team in the division, as they took 11 shots on goal and nine corner kicks. In the ninth minute, junior forward Lauren Castillo saw her shot get deflected at the right post, which led to the fifth corner kick. The one and only shot the seventh ranked Spartans took in the first half came one minute before halftime. A free kick taken by Angie Dias inside the penalty arc was blocked by a V.C. wall of defenders.
“It was so frustrating because we kept on getting corners and corners; we kept getting chances after chances but we could never get our head to the ball,” Pollard said. “Or when we did get to it, the goalie was right there in front of it. But we never gave up and we always kept trying.”
“I’m going to commend their goalkeeper,” Looney said. “We haven’t seen a goalkeeper that good all season. She knew how to play everything. We were not prepared for the corner kicks not man-marking us.”
The scoreless tie was broken in the 57th minute when Pamela Huaman fed a beautiful pass to Taylor Skillern and for the first time in over 1,400 minutes, the Lady Crusaders were staring at a deficit. But that lasted three minutes because of a ‘right place at the right time’ situation by Bouma. In the 60th minute, a free kick from junior defender Caitlyn Wind was initially stopped by Armas. But when she couldn’t completely contain the ball, it squirted away from her and there was Bouma to tap it in for the equalizer.
“We talked a lot about what does that mean,” Looney said about trailing. “Get the ball out of the back of the net, settle down, listen to us as coaches. That is where I am most proud of them tonight, because they didn’t stop. With 20 minutes left, down a goal, they didn’t stop. They kept playing.”
V.C. finished the game with 20 shots on goal to just three by the Spartans. The victory moved the Lady Crusaders into the semifinals where they visited West Valley High this past Tuesday and moved one step closer to its championship goals with a 2-0 victory It’s the first time since 2009 V.C. has advanced to the semifinals, as well as the divisional finals. Pollard and sophomore forward Kennedy Wesley accounted for the two goals. The Lady Crusaders will now take on top seeded Grace Brethren High on Saturday.
“I wanted to get to [the Jurupa Hills] game with this group,” Looney said. “What happened in this game tonight…I honestly just left it up to the kids and God knew what was going to happen. To now go beyond that is a gift. It’s a gift for me. These guys have done far more than I could have ever asked them to do.”
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