With only two league games remaining in the Foothill League after today’s slate of games, Tuesday night’s 3-2 victory for the West Ranch girls soccer team over Valencia was crucial, to say the least.
The win solidified the Wildcats’ spot in second place in league with a 5-2-1 record and two games left against Hart and Golden Valley.
“It was not just a big win for our team this year, but for our program as we continue to build a reputation in league. We’re still a relatively new school, so we’re trying to continue to solidify top-three finishes year in and year out,” West Ranch head coach Jared White said.
“To be in second place coming into this knowing Saugus was right here, knowing Valencia had some momentum, knowing Canyon is a really talented team kind of all sitting within striking distance behind you, one point wasn’t going to get it done for us today. We knew we needed to come in and get three.”
West Ranch attacked Valencia early, with senior forward Tatum Summerfield firing a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar. Sophomore defensive midfielder Leanna Kane got a hold of the ball moments later and blasted a shot toward goal, but Vikings keeper Camryn Arnott came up with a big save.
The Wildcats kept up their aggressive play and were rewarded.
Forward Lizeth Gutierrez received a pass from left back Kennedy Desser, then used her speed and touch to break through Valencia’s defense, finding the back of the net with a booming strike.
Valencia answered in the 21st minute as midfielder Isabelle Goralsky crossed the ball into the box off a free kick from the right side of the field.
Senior Brenna Neitzke got her foot on the ball after a deflection and rifled it into the back of the net.
“I was really excited. It was my second goal this season and it’s fun to get it on senior night too,” Neitzke said.
As halftime inched closer, West Ranch kept the pressure on and Kane was able to square up from distance.
She launched a high-arcing shot that sailed over Arnott’s outstretched arms and into the net, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 advantage at intermission.
“Lizeth balled out today and Tatum up top was a workhorse that we haven’t had in a while which was good. We’ve been preaching, ‘Shoot Leanna, shoot,’” White said. “She’s a Xabi Alonso type of player. Likes to sit back, play a good long ball, wins the ball in the air and is dangerous when she gets a look.”
The Vikings weren’t done yet, coming out aggressive in the second half and keeping possession more so than they had in the first half.
With Valencia pushing forward, senior Jessica Raffi passed the ball near West Ranch’s goal. It was deflected to senior Stephanie Alba, who belted a shot directly at Wildcats keeper Hannah Everitt, bouncing off her and through her legs past the end line to even the score at 2-2.
However, Gutierrez and the rest of the Wildcats wouldn’t be denied, as the sophomore was able to control the ball after taking it away from Valencia’s defense and powered through the back line to hammer home the game-winning goal in the 68th minute and her second of the evening.
“I told her, ‘You’re going to get another one.’ I told her right away,” West Ranch senior center back Kaylani Miranda said. “So it made me so happy and I ran up and said, ‘Lizeth, thataway to do it!’ It was such a happy moment for us.”
“I knew that we were still in the game and that we could still come back and we kept having counter attacks in the second half,” Neitzke said. “It’s disappointing that they got their goal but we still gave them a good fight.”
West Ranch was without two starters: senior center back Sydney Marbach and sophomore midfielder Yumari Rubio, who were both injured in practice on Wednesday.
Despite the injuries, West Ranch’s defense was as solid as it’s been all season, allowing only two shots on goal the entire game.
The back four, led by seniors Miranda and Marbach, sophomore Desser and freshman Summer Hahn as well as junior keeper Everitt, has given up only four goals in league this season and recorded five shutouts in their last seven games heading into Tuesday night.
“Our defense is young but they’re talented. There is good chemistry back there and leadership starting to come out with all four of them,” White said.
“I trust my back line even without Syd, I trust the other girls who come in,” Miranda added. “We always go in and out at practice, we switch roles. I trust them coming in. We’re strong either way.”
The loss drops Valencia into fifth place in league, but the Vikings could still jump into the No. 4 spot with two games left on the schedule against Canyon and Golden Valley next week.
West Ranch maintains its spot in second place with games against Hart and Golden Valley next week.
Though Hart remains undefeated in league and beat West Ranch 2-0 the first time the teams met, White is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s a tough task. First place isn’t on the line or anything like that, but there’s pride involved,” he said. “Coach G (Mitrovitch) is a really good friend and great colleague and we always have fun games and intense ones. So we’re looking to play a little spoiler and sneak some points. We’re just excited for the challenge.”
Hart 3, Canyon 0
Hart clinched first place in the Foothill League with its victory on Tuesday. The Indians are 8-0 in league and still looking to close out the season undefeated.
Elizabeth MacArthur scored the first goal for Hart off an assist from Mia Petralia. Mialani Noble scored the second goal off an assist by Alyssa Irwin and Sarah Melvin netted the third goal, assisted by Stefani Woll.
Hart will finish the season with games against West Ranch and Saugus. Canyon, which sits in fourth place currently with a 3-5 league record, will face Saugus and Valencia in its two remaining games.
Saugus 4, Golden Valley 1
Saugus remains in third place with its win on Tuesday, holding a record of 4-2-2 in league.
Jazmine Flores, Brooke Chambers, Aubrey Finicle and Valerie Fernandez were the goal-scorers for the Centurions. Flores also recorded an assist as did Kaytlin Russell, Abbey Negosian and Shaina Berdin.
Saugus will conclude league play next week against Canyon and Hart.
Golden Valley will play Valencia and West Ranch to finish its season.