West Ranch girls soccer concluded their season on a high note and solidified its spot in the playoffs with a 4-0 win over Golden Valley at Golden Valley High School Thursday afternoon.
The Wildcats (10-8-4 overall, 4-3-3 Foothill League) had a dream start to their playoff push, netting three goals within the first 10 minutes of the match.
“We didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” said West Ranch head coach Eric White. “We knew a win guaranteed us a playoff spot. The girls came out fast and furious and put three in in like the first (10) minutes.”
Four separate players scored for the Wildcats on Tuesday. Cassidy Imperial-Pham kicked things off. She scored in the first two minutes of the match to ignite a fire within her teammates. Yumary Rubio wasn’t far behind her. She scored the Wildcats’ second goal in the sixth minute.
Leanna Kane finished off the blitzkrieg with a goal of her own in the 11th minute of the match.
“I think our last game in league we really wanted to come out strong, especially for seniors and closing out the season,” Kane said. “We did, so now we’re on our way to playoffs. I’m really excited about that”
Shortly after, the Wildcat attack backed off and the match became more balanced.
“We started off on the back foot,” said Golden Valley head coach Freddy Wheeler. “That’s not how I wanted to get started at all. A lot of nerves tonight with it being senior night. We leveled it out and we figured some things out.”
West Ranch had a few more opportunities on goal, but Wheeler put star goalkeeper Eziekella Okereke into the match and she proved to be a headache for West Ranch.
“We had a couple more really good opportunities, it just wasn’t the same hundred-mile-an-hour like the first 12 minutes,” White said. “Their keeper’s phenomenal. We had a couple of good opportunities that would probably go in on somebody else, but not her.”
Wheeler said he made the decision to Zoe MacDonald over Okereke because he saw the game as a great opportunity to give her a shot. After falling down by three goals he made another decision to reinstall his best leader back into the game.
“Just decided to make the change after we gave up three goals and go with Kella who’s a bit more of a veteran keeper,” Wheeler said. “That gave us a bit more confidence for our back line because Kella’s a captain. She’s a leader and she just went out there and took charge.”
The Wildcats had a hard time cracking Okereke. They finally managed the sneak past her late in the second half. Summer Hahn was West Ranch’s fourth goal scorer and she did so in the 73rd minute.
Hahn fired a high-arcing shot from about 28 yards out. The ball came down just between the crossbar and the top of Okereke’s vertical reach. However, she came down hard and injured her knee, which took her out of the match. MacDonald went back in and redeemed herself from the first 10 minutes of play.
Despite the loss and their season being over, it was still all smiles from the Grizzlies’ bench. The girls celebrated Senior Day and reflected on all the moments they had over the last few years. There may have been some tears, but they weren’t sad. The girls even enjoyed themselves by dumping the Gatorade cooler over Wheeler after the game.
While his seniors move on, Wheeler still has excitement for the future of his team. A majority of his strong players were underclassmen this season and will likely return to the Grizzlies in the 2020-21 season.
“I think we’re pretty much bonded,” he said with a waterlogged chuckle. “I’m super proud of these seniors. Without their hard work, we wouldn’t have been able to lay the foundation. Now that we’ve gotten used to playing together and playing our style of soccer, we’re going to continue to build and grow and do good things.”
For the Grizzlies (4-11-3, 0-8-2), the season is over, but the Wildcats still have playoff soccer ahead of them. Playoff pairings are expected to be made Saturday with games starting next week.
“The focus shifts into getting healthy,” White said. “A nice easy day tomorrow. Let’s work and redefine what we’re good at.”