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SAN GABRIEL VALLEY LEAGUE GIRLS SOCCER : Gahr’s defense does enough to overcome Paramount’s speedy offense

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Martin Henry, the fifth-year head coach of the Gahr High girls soccer team, admitted that every opponent his team has played this season has been faster than his. That includes Paramount High, which walked onto the pitch at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium this past Tuesday afternoon tied with Gahr for third place in the San Gabriel Valley League.

On paper, the Lady Gladiators had better statistics over Pirates in terms of goals scored this season (35-28), goals allowed (22-29), shutouts (six to four) and games in which they had been shutout (four to five). And even though Paramount dominated the game and outshot Gahr 20-6, it took just one goal from junior forward Nicholette Palomo that enabled the hosts to squeak by with a 1-0 win. Gahr improved to 11-5-2 overall and 3-2 in league and because of the stellar play of its defense, including senior goalkeeper Ashley Correia, the team feels fortunate to come away victorious.

“I definitely feel quite fortunate,” Henry said. “We definitely didn’t play well, but Paramount plated well. They’re a good, solid team. Nicholette had a great goal and I would say the difference was that their back line played well. A little offside trap…definitely not many teams do that, and so that was tough for us to figure out.”

Palomo scored her team-leading 18thgoal in the 35thminute on a breakaway for the lone tally. But before that and for much of the second half, the Lady Gladiators had to buckle down on defense and survive a barrage of shots that were taken on Correia. Paramount took 10 shots on goal in each half with Correia making 11 saves for the game.

Her first two saves came in the first seven minutes of the contest when a header from Saira Casian and a shot from Emily Gordillo were denied in the third and seventh minutes respectively. Gahr’s first shot came in the 11thminute when Palomo raced down the right side all alone and took a shot that was blocked by Paramount netminder Litzy Cisneros. That led to a corner kick in which a header from senior midfielder Kim Sanchez fell in front of Cisneros. 

Nearly halfway through the half, Paramount’s Emely Barrera launched a shot that hit the upper left corner of the crossbar and in the 24thminute, Palomo was loose on another breakaway, but her shot was punched away. 

“We have a game plan and we try to execute it as best as we can,” Henry said. “We have a very direct approach and that’s just who we are. We’re a counter-attacking team. Our defense is usually pretty solid. We do have some speed up top but limited in a lot of areas.”

Paramount had a chance to tie the game 13 minutes into the second half, but a pair of shots from Janella Jimenez were thwarted by Correia at the near post. This was the fourth 1-0 shutout for Gahr with Palomo accounting for the only goal in three of those games. 

“All four years she has been out starting keeper, and one of the leaders on the team,” Henry said of Correia. “I’m not quite sure how many shutouts she has and things like that. She’s definitely grown into a quite a mature goalkeeper and likes to take on that responsibility. She can handle the pressure, which is good, especially in these tight games. Knowing the team we are and what we have, it’s a lot of pressure on her and a lot of pressure on Nicholette and [sophomore forward] Kayla [Berneal], who have both been our scoring.”

With five games left in the regular season, Henry knows that there is still a lot of work to be done if the team wants to advance to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs. The last time the Lady Gladiators played in the postseason was the 2002-2003 season when that team posted a 14-5-0 record and were co-league champions. Since then, the program has seen just one winning season until now and no matter what, Gahr will finish above .500 this season. In fact, the 11 victories thus far are the program’s most since going 11-5-2 in the 2006-2007 campaign. However, Gahr’s remaining road games are against the teams it defeated, including Dominguez High on Tuesday and Lynwood High on Thursday. Gahr also hosted Downey High on Jan. 23.

“It’s going to be tough,” Henry said. “We have to go to Dominguez, to Lynwood and to Paramount. All three teams are going to be tough to beat, especially on their [field] turf [surface]. I think the turf field is not so bad for us. It kind of helps us in our game plan. I’d rather be 3-2 than 2-3, but we’ll see.”