College of the Canyons women’s soccer dropped its first game of the season in Wednesday’s home opener.
The Cougars fell to one of the top teams in the country, the Chaffey Panthers.
Chaffey won the game, 1-0, behind a booming free-kick goal from midfield by defender Nyomi Rivas. The defender netted the goal just in front of the midfield line late in the first half to push her team to victory.
Canyons (2-1) had its chances to score but struggled to break down a Chaffey defense that still hasn’t allowed a goal this season.
COC didn’t allow many chances in the box throughout the non-league contest. Whenever the Panthers (4-0) did break through the Cougar backline, Canyons keepers Hazel Saucedo and Annabella Gonzales were ready to make a stop. The two combined for eight saves in the loss.
Cougars coach Justin Lundin was pleased with his defense’s performance.
“The backline did great,” Lundin said. “There were some things that we’ve been working on with them and they did outstanding tonight. So that was a very positive sign for us today.”
Canyons had some looks early in the game but chances fizzled away in the first half as the Panthers controlled possession. Chaffey keeper Jessica Collins over-extended out of her zone, leaving the goal wide open on the rebound for COC midfielder Lizeth Gutierrez, who fired away, but the Panthers backline had a key deflection.
Cougars forward Kiana Madera gave the Chaffey defenders fits toward the end of the game with two steals that nearly translated into goals. Madera poked the ball away from the Panthers’ backline twice in the final 20 minutes but the team couldn’t capitalize on the play.
Chaffey is hot off a state runner-up season with just one loss coming in the title game. The Panthers returned several all-conference players and are looking sharp to start 2023 as the team has still not conceded a goal through four matches.
One of the all-conference returners, Julia Galdamez, was a blur in the midfield. Galdamez poked balls away from COC’s pushes while leading numerous breaks down the field to set up a shot on offense. The 5-foot midfielder didn’t look very little on the field, rocketing huge headers off long volleys throughout the non-conference contest.
Lundin’s team was ready for the matchup with the third-ranked team in the country according to the United Soccer Coaches Poll.
“We wanted to come into the game and try to be as organized as we could be and we did,” Lundin said. “We were very organized. We defended well. The goal we gave up was a 45-yard-out long ball. We had our chances on goal. We had opportunities, we built up the ball well, overall. You never like to lose, but we’re walking away with some good things today.”
Lundin knew Wednesday would be a tough task for his team but has liked what he’s seen so far in the 2023 season. COC had some cramping issues throughout the game, which gave tons of new players a chance to get some playing time.
“Tonight, we saw a lot of cramping and a lot of players came off, but their replacements that came into those positions did a good job,” Lundin said. “So, it’s nice to see that we have some good depth that can come in and be able to hold their own against a top team.”
COC will be playing around with lineups and formations until they find the right formula. “It’s early in the season so we’re still trying to find our identity and find our way,” Lundin said. “We just have to reemphasize doing the things that we’re trying to do at practice and working on. It’s coming along.”
Canyons will look to bounce back on Friday in another non-conference game with Saddleback College.
Lundin likes the team he’s built and believes the team has the makings of pushing Canyons into the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
“Well, obviously the goal is always to make it a championship weekend,” Lundin said. “For me, probably the biggest goal is to try to stay healthy. Last year, the injuries were a big part of our issues moving forward, so if we can stay healthy, I think we have a team that can give the playoffs a run.”
COC returns to action on Friday at home against Saddleback at 6 p.m.