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GIRLS SOCCER : Norwalk strikes first, holds on to edge Artesia in final game of month

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

When it was in the Suburban League, the Artesia High girls soccer team dominated Norwalk High with 26 wins in 40 games played since 1998. For added measure, the Lady Pioneers edged Norwalk last season 2-1 as non-league members.

But times have changed for both programs since last season and for now, it appears the Lady Lancers are on the right track to snap a skid of 10 straight seasons with a sub-.500 mark. A pair of goals from senior forward Emely Soto in a span 14 minutes in the first half held up and Norwalk defeated host Artesia 2-1 last Thursday. Norwalk improved to 5-4-1 while the Lady Pioneers continued to struggle and went to 0-8 at the time.

“One thing I’ve noticed about Artesia is every time we play them, it’s like a final,” said Norwalk head coach Agustin Ojeda. “They play to win to the last minute. Everyone gives an effort and even though their record is not a winning record this season, it seems like they always want to win every game. The rivalry, I think, is still there. Some of [our] players are friends with them, in club or outside of school.”

Artesia had the game’s first true chance to score but junior forward Michelle Aguilar’s shot from the left side of the field went wide to the right of the net in the 15thminute. Five minutes later, Soto lost control of the ball in front of Artesia junior goalkeeper Jizelle Velazquez and was unable to get a shot off.

But three minutes after that, Soto made sure her shot would find the back of the net as she was the recipient of a deflection off junior forward Jennifer Navarro following a free kick. Then with three minutes remaining in the half, Soto raced past Artesia’s last defender and made it 2-0.

“In reality, in the first half, even though they had the two goals, we created more opportunities,” said Artesia first-year head coach Hugo Umana. “We held possession, really, in both halves. But it was kind of more of them taking advantage of their opportunities. In the first half, we had a couple of instances where we should have scored. If you don’t finish, then you can only defend so much and that’s what happened in the first half.”

Norwalk could have gone up 3-0 very early in the second half, but Navarro was denied on a soft shot off a breakaway. In the 52ndminute, the Lady Pioneers got on the board as they took advantage of some miscommunication on Norwalk’s behalf as senior defender Carla Rosales found an open right side of the net. It was only the third goal Artesia had scored this season.

“It seems like in the second half, once they put pressure on us, our accuracy went off a little bit,” Ojeda said. “So, it’s something we have to work on. Overall, they put the effort in the back to try to hold them back. [There was] miscommunication a lot. That goal they scored on us, there was miscommunication between defense and the goalkeeper. But overall, in the first half, we were pressing. We had the possession of the ball. We were using our sides. It seems like we forget that in the second half.”

Artesia continued to keep the pressure on as senior midfielder Kimberly Flores’ shot off a corner kick from junior midfielder Stephanie Flores in the 61stminute went just wide of the left post. Three minutes later, Soto was on another breakaway, but her shot was just above the upper right corner of the net. A long range shot from Stephanie Flores in the 68thminute went wide left and with two minutes remaining before stoppage time, a shot from Kimberly Flores from beyond the penalty box while sliding to the ground was saved by Norwalk sophomore goalkeeper Angelina Serrano, who was just brought up from the junior varsity team.

Artesia, which would be blanked 1-0 each by Santa Fe High and Ontario Christian High last Saturday in the Best in the West Tournament, is off until Jan. 7 when it visits Cerritos High in the 605 League opener, The Lady Pioneers, who went 11-6-5 last season, is off to their worst start since the 2006-2007 season when that team finished 1-18-2.

“We only return a total of seven players from last year’s team and out of those seven, I think four were starters,” Umana said. “Some of those players are now key players. We [also] have one [team], so we have a smaller program itself. We’re definitely going through growing pains and inexperience. Even though the results haven’t gone our way, we’re still improving each game.”

Norwalk, which has never had a winning record in the program’s history, will next be in action on Jan. 3 at Gahr High. Norwalk’s best record in the history of the program was 11-11-3 in the 2008-2009 season. In addition, the Lady Lancers have been to the playoffs just twice, the last coming six seasons ago. 

“I’ve been trying to create a specific way of playing with this team,” Ojeda said. “When things work; when we train and the girls do what we do in training, it works, and you can see in the scores. When we lose, we lose because of our own mistakes.”