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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
DOWNEY-It was 10 years ago when the Valley Christian High girls soccer team last tasted a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional championship. Back then, the Lady Crusaders had to share the top prize with Oaks Christian High as the two teams finished in a scoreless draw.
But last Saturday night, sophomore midfielder Kennedy Wesley made sure that V.C. would not share its third girls soccer championship. She converted a pair of free kicks in the first half and assisted on the third goal as the Lady Crusaders knocked off Grace Brethren High 3-1 in the Division 6 finals.
“I am overcome with emotion,” said V.C. head coach Kim Looney. “I don’t really even know how to explain it right now. To have a title outright is amazing. The other ones are just as special, but this is a different feeling.
“It’s also a different feeling because it’s taken us three years to get here,” she continued. “We have a lot of battle wounds with those three years. But just to come out with a win and to score in the final minute of the game…I don’t know what to say.”
V.C. had only three shots on goal in the first half but made the most of two of them. In the ninth minute, Wesley took a free kick from 23 yards out that curled towards the upper left corner of the net above a wall of Grace Brethren defenders. The Lady Crusaders would go up 2-0 seven minutes later when Wesley took another free kick, this time from 18 yards out.
It was the second time in the playoffs that Wesley scored twice in a game and the fifth time this season she had multiple goals in a game. Wesley has now scored 19 goals this season.
“We are very lucky to have someone like Kennedy on our team,” Looney said. “And Kennedy exudes a passion and a love for the game that is just contagious for my girls. When Kennedy is on fire, it works, which is every second of every game. The girls feed off of her. She makes us a better team overall. Everybody contributes in their own way and that’s what made us what we are this year.”
“Unbelievable,” Wesley said. “We worked so well as a team and it was just amazing. Our chemistry was amazing; it was the best out of the whole year.”
The early 2-0 lead was exactly what the second ranked Lady Crusaders needed, considering they have been a dominating defensive juggernaut most of the season. V.C. had entered the game yielding five goals in its last 19 games while going 17-0-2 during that stretch. Even when Sammi Fisher’s penalty kick in the 51st minute put the top ranked Lancers on the board, the Lady Crusaders were still feeling better than they did in the quarterfinals against Jurupa Hills.
In that game, the score was tied 0-0 at the half and Jurupa Hills scored the first goal of the game, marking the first time V.C. had trailed since Dec. 16 against St. Margaret’s High. But the stingy Lady Crusaders defense held onto the 2-1 lead thanks to the great play of junior goalkeeper Destinee Montenegro, who came up with two saves in the second half off of three shots the Lancers took.
“I told the kids defense wins championships and set pieces win offensively,” Looney said. “And we had to be able to finish set pieces, whether they were corners, whether they were free kicks, whether they were penalty kicks. We did that on two free kicks. They finished on a penalty kick, which they had to. That could have given them a lot of momentum. Then we finished on a throw-in.”
“Us being down against Jurupa at home…we do not want to have that feeling again,” Wesley said. “It was really stressful, especially in the second half. We did our best to try to score early and score fast and hold the lead.”
For added measure, the Lady Crusaders iced the game two minutes into stoppage time when Wesley took a long throw-in which was perfectly placed in front of junior midfielder Lauren Castillo, who headed in her 10th tally of the season.
“I’ve always kind of had that little long throw ever since I was younger,” Wesley said. “We work on that in practice every day. Every practice at the end, we always do that. It paid off tonight.”
When the Lady Crusaders advanced to the divisional finals for the first time in 2005, they tied Oaks Christian 2-2. V.C. also played in the title game in 2009, falling to North Torrance 2-1 in overtime. But this season, Looney has had to coach a team built around freshmen and sophomores. In fact, there are just two seniors on the 2017 team-Priscilla Gilbert and Kelly McKittrick and because of that, Looney expected her team to be this good next season as opposed to this soon.
“They are each very different in their own way,” Looney said of her three championships. “In 2005, it was the very first time we had ever been there. We were making history for our school. That one will always remain probably one of the most special ones for me because it was the very first one.
“In 2007, we’re back playing Oaks Christian again and I have a million set of sisters on my team and we fight tooth and nail,” Looney remembered. “Then you come here and to win it outright; to be a part of their three-year journey and then to win it outright makes it its own special championship as well.”
“I think it’s exactly ahead of schedule,” Wesley said. “Us being young and playing against all of these seniors really drives us to want to win multiple times. Not just our senior year, not just when we’re supposed to win. But we wanted to win now.”
V.C. advanced to the CIF Southern California Division V Regional quarterfinals where it hosted San Diego-based Lincoln High this past Tuesday afternoon. The Lady Crusaders came away with a 3-0 win as Castillo, Wesley and McKittrick all scored. V.C. moved on to the semifinals where it hosted San Gabriel Mission High on Mar. 9. A win against the Pioneers would put V.C. in the finals on Saturday against the winner of the Grace Brethren/Fowler High game.
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