Valencia girls soccer walked onto the pitch Thursday afternoon at West Ranch High School on the hunt for its first league win since play began on Jan. 7.
The Vikings didn’t pick up the win. Instead, the match ended in a draw, but it felt like a win to them. They came into the second half down 2-0 and their offense seemed unable to produce any form of an attack.
When defeat seemed certain, Valencia changed the story of the match. Its attack finally bore fruit and the Vikings scored twice in the final five minutes of the match to force a 2-2 draw.
“I think we play our best in the last couple minutes,” said Valencia sophomore Jackie Victorio. “Even though we tied, it felt like we won.”
Despite the beginning and end of the match being controlled by the Vikings (4-7-6 overall, 0-3-5 Foothill League), West Ranch was in command for a majority of the contest. The Wildcats looked confident while the Vikings looked lost.
West Ranch (9-7-4, 3-2-3) took advantage of the confusion and struck two devastating blows against the Vikings. The Wildcats scored twice within three minutes to take a lead that would seem daunting to most offenses.
The momentum shift happened in the 10th minute. Valencia senior Isabelle Goralsky delivered a corner kick to the penalty box. Bodies swarmed to the ball and a Viking rose up and headed it. The shot ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and back out into play. From there the Viking attack lost all drive.
The Wildcats completed the turn in momentum with an attack in the 17th minute that fired up their offense. Senior Amanda Baumgartner put the Valencia defense on edge when she nearly scored, but Valencia junior goalkeeper Danielle McNeil pounced on the ball.
The near goal made the Wildcats hungry for more.
They scored in the 27th minute off a penalty kick from sophomore Grace Bakoo after sophomore Cassidy Imperial-Pham went down hard in the box. They kept the momentum going and scored again in the 30thminute on a hard grounder from Baumgartner. She was assisted by senior Brooke Fenenbock.
Despite a 2-0 halftime lead, West Ranch head coach Eric White didn’t feel like his players were competing to the best of their abilities.
“We didn’t deserve to be up 2-0. We didn’t outplay them by any stretch in the first 40,” White said. “I thought the second 40 we did.”
West Ranch kept the pressure through most of the second half and the Vikings struggled to maintain control of the ball. Freshman Mikayla Toliver played a huge role in the second-half push by the Wildcats. She was always on the ball and consistently stole possession in Valencia territory to set up and attack for her team.
“Mikayla’s been growing each and every game,” White said. “She’s learning that her speed can be a huge weapon when used in the right moments. I think she’s learning when to use those moments, especially in the last three games.”
Despite a constant attack from West Ranch, McNeil kept her head on straight and warded off the Wildcats.
“She’s phenomenal,”said Valencia head coach Kevin Goralsky. “She always steps up and makes big saves when we need them. She’s always in the right place at the right time.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Valencia flipped a switch and put West Ranch back on the defensive. Isabelle turned a broken play into good fortune in order to get the Vikings on the board in the 76th minute of the match.
“We had so many chances hit the crossbar in the first half, once we finally got it in it was just a momentum changer,” she said. “It was really nice to have the encouragement to our team to get the momentum going.”
It wasn’t a pretty goal, but it was exactly what they needed to turn the tide. The Valencia attack was more focused after scoring and pushed the Wildcats back on their heels.
With the final whistle around the corner, Isabelle lined up for a free kick in Wildcat territory. She drove it towards the middle of the box and Victorio made a tight squeeze into a crowd to knock the ball into the back of the net.
“I knew I had to get there,” Victorio said. “It was the last chance to get a goal for us.”
Victorio sprinted back to the bench to be swarmed by white jerseys as the Vikings escaped defeat. The final whistle blew just moments later sealing an unlikely comeback.
“I’m just proud of the girls,” Kevin said. “It’s a moral victory for us. For them to come back in the last second and tie the game is awesome.”
The final week of Foothill League play begins on Tuesday. The Wildcats will look to bounce back against Hart at Hart High School at 3:15 p.m. The Vikings will play a night match at home against Golden Valley. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.
Saugus 2, Golden Valley 1
The Centurions (8-3-6, 3-0-5) narrowly escaped their first league loss in a 2-1 victory over the Grizzlies (4-9-3, 0-6-2) Thursday night at Saugus High School.
Golden Valley scored early to put the pressure on Saugus. Junior Kayla De La Merced, who has been the heart of the Golden Valley offense recently, fired a shot that bounced off of Saugus’ goalkeeper Maddie Moreno in the fourth minute. Freshman Kaia Usher drove forward to knock the ball in.
The Grizzlies controlled the remainder of the match until the final five minutes. Katie Russell delivered a corner kick to Natalie Quezada who redirected the ball into the net. A quick turnaround led to another assist by Russell. She crossed it to Alyssa Edwards who punched in the game-winner.
The Centurions honored 10 seniors during their last home game. They got to celebrate with a win.
Saugus will play at Canyon next and Golden Valley will play at Valencia. Both matches will be Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Hart 2, Canyon 1
The Indians (18-1-3, 7-0-1) continued their run of dominance over the Cowboys (2-8-3, 2-4-2) Tuesday night.
Hart struck first with a goal from Stefani Woll in the first half. She was assisted by Julia Melchiore. The duo struck again midway through the second half with Melchiore assisting Woll again.
The Indians held the 2-0 lead until the final 15 minutes of the match. Canyon’s Jacqueline Morrison delivered the ball to Gia Briceno who had a clear shot on goal. She took the easy shot to keep the Cowboys from being shut out.
Canyon will host Saugus on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Hart will play at home on Tuesday as well. Its match against West Ranch is at 3:15 p.m.