GARDEN GROVE – Huddled together in a baseball dugout just a short walk away from the Pacifica soccer field, Canyon girls soccer players smiled, but with sad eyes.
The 1-0 loss stung, but an appearance in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 quarterfinals on Friday was enough to keep the tears at bay.
“I’m honestly just so proud of where we’ve come,” said senior Claudia McKail. “We didn’t think that we would’ve gone this far and I’m just, no matter what the score was, I’m just proud of how these girls played and I’m proud of where we got to.”
It was the Cowboys’ first-ever trip to the CIF-SS quarterfinals and one of the team’s most challenging games of the season.
Rapid winds wreaked havoc on throw-ins and free kicks. The playing surface was also different from what Canyon was used to – uneven grass took the place of the artificial turf that the team is familiar with.
The Cowboys had practiced on grass fields the day prior, but it wasn’t enough.
“We had come accustomed to playing on the turf, but truth be told these girls have grown up playing on grass their entire life,” said coach Derek Rusk.
“It’s not like a completely foreign concept, (but) it’s tough to come out and deal with the bad bounces and that sort of thing.”
Canyon (12-8-2) kept the game scoreless throughout the first half and had made adjustments to contain Mariners forward Alexa Riddle, who had the speed and finesse to maneuver the ball through defenders with ease.
“We tried to connect, tried not to, like, let the defense get the ball because they’ll just pass it right to her,” McKail said. “So we tried to connect more and just calm down.”
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After Pacifica (20-3-3) scored in the 56th minute on a throw-in, the Cowboys picked up the pace. With 10 minutes left in the game, they shifted more players to the attacking third in an effort to overpower the Mariners defense.
“…Even pushing the numbers up, the Pacifica team had parked the bus in the back and they were just trying to preserve the win,” Rusk said.
Next season, the Cowboys will lose five seniors but return a host of playoff-seasoned underclassmen.
“Just bring that confidence back and bring this game into next year and go even further,” said McKail. “Let’s not lose in the quarterfinals and go even further.”