The Canyon Cowboys girls’ soccer season came down to the wire in the wildcard round of the CIF Division 3 playoffs on Tuesday.
The Cowboys went through two scoreless halves and a pair of overtime periods before heading to penalty kicks with the hosting Valley View Eagles. Canyon coach Leonardo Neveleff knew his team could prevail if it reached PKs, and the Cowboys came through.
“We held back and the girls played their hearts out,” Neveleff told The Signal in a phone interview. “I knew that if we were gonna go to PKs, we were gonna win that game.”
Canyon forward Isabella Aguilar drilled the game-winning shot to win in PKs, 4-3.
Aguilar, Jiliana DiDomenico, Siena Salas and senior Bailey Williamson all drilled shots in the shootout to win. Cowboys goalkeeper Makayla Charles also came up huge in PKs, where she made two stops.
“Makayla is super on top of everything and she had quite a few saves in the first half,” Neveleff said. “She had an amazing game and those two saves in the PKs, I think that was the cherry on top of the cake.”
Regulation was a tale of two halves for Canyon (9-6-2). The Cowboys came out flat, struggled to connect and had some tension built up between teammates.
“We started off really bad,” Neveleff said. “There were no connections between the lines … We couldn’t find a solution to counterattack. They had a really good team with a good offense and some talented players and we couldn’t figure it out.”
Neveleff and the team spoke about the game plan at halftime but they mainly focused on regrouping for one another.
“We just got together in the locker room and we talked not just about tactics but more about why are we here? What are we here for?” Neveleff said. “All the sacrifices that players made to make it this far and to just give up. There is never a good day to give up. It was a heart-to-heart conversation we had and it seemed like it had an impact because we went in and had a really good second half.”
Canyon controlled the second half better but still couldn’t find any goals. Charles had much less pressure on her and had a less stressful half than the first, where she came up with a handful of key saves.
As the game progressed, the Cowboys grew more and more tired and wound up playing around two hours of soccer. However, Neveleff still knew if they could get to the final whistle still in a scoreless draw, his team could prevail in PKs.
Neveleff preaches defense to his Canyon team and isn’t planning on changing anything when it wins games like this one.
“A lot of people say, ‘You play defensively,’” Neveleff said. “You don’t have to play fancy to win games. You play the way that’s best for your team. That’s our identity. When we step on the field, this is the way we play, we’re not going to change and luckily it’s given us results.”
Canyon will look for another positive result in the opening round of the Division 3 playoffs on Thursday. The Cowboys will be on the road again and take on the Apple Valley Sun Devils (16-3-1).
The Sun Devils are led by freshman Jadyn Bechtel, who leads the team with 28 goals. Upperclassmen Sarah Fort and Alia Collins have also scored at least 10 goals this season and will be part of an early big test for the Cowboys.
“Just for us to bring the passion, the attitude and our personality on the field, and that’s all I’m asking for,” Neveleff said. “And then, play the game and try to have fun. Don’t forget this is just a game. We all want to win but we have to have fun at the same time.”
Canyon takes on Apple Valley on Thursday at 3 p.m.