Coyotes fall short in playoff test
The greatest women’s soccer season ever at Lake Tahoe Community College came to end Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the Northern California Regionals.
The No. 3 seed Lady Coyotes lost 1-0 to the No. 6 Santa Rosa Bear Cubs on a dark, damp, hazy night in South Lake Tahoe.
The Coyotes controlled the pace. They dominated most of the game and had the run of play in the second half. They charged into the Santa Rosa defensive end time after time only to come up short. Clearing the zone was a victory for Santa Rosa (13-4-5 overall). The Bear Cubs had little possession in final 45 minutes.
It was frustrating for the Coyotes and their fans. After the final whistle, many were in disbelief.
“Honestly, I thought we had them beat,” said Coyotes sophomore co-team captain Caitlyn Bidart, a 2016 Douglas High School graduate. “We came out with the energy we needed. We had them beat, you could tell they were tired, we just didn’t finish the opportunities we had.”
Midway through the second half, the Bear Cubs were breathing hard. They substituted frequently but playing at the 6,200-foot elevation clearly was taking its toll.
LTCC head coach Jeremy Evans kept pushing his girls, “They’re tired, you can see it, you’ve got ‘em ladies.”
Melanie Ara led repeated offensive thrusts. She drove the ball deep into Santa Rosa territory on numerous occasions and at times was the fastest player on the pitch. Her legs were already stiff when she walked off the field at halftime. But that didn’t slow her in the second half. She came the closest in the final moments to netting the equalizer with a shot from distance hooking just wide left.
The Coyotes had no problem getting into scoring position, it was finding an open shot in the compact Santa Rosa defense once they were there.
“We won the middle third and we got into that attacking third and it seemed like we ran out of ideas,” Evans said.
When it seemed like the Coyotes’ goal was imminent, and Santa Rosa seemed about to reach a breaking point, the Bear Cubs struck. They earned a corner kick with about 21 minutes left. The Coyotes deflected the kick but couldn’t clear.
Santa Rosa booted the ball right back in the box. Again the Coyotes deflected.
But on the third attempt, a Bear Cubs pass into the box found the feet of Kaleigh Alves. The Santa Rosa sophomore took a touch, put it on her left foot and hit a grounder into the bottom right corner of the net from close range.
The Santa Rosa sideline went nuts. The Bear Cubs and their fans celebrated. They had renewed energy.
It was a gut punch to the Coyotes.
“This game can be cruel sometimes,” Evans said. “I think there is no doubt we are the way stronger team. In the second half they had one shot on goal and scored. I mean, credit to them. They’re on the road. They’re playing a better team that already beat them (3-2 at Santa Rosa on Sept. 5). They played a fitter, faster team that had a better crowd. They had everything going against them, and they took advantage of their one shot.
“But I’ll give credit to my girls, they did exactly what I asked after halftime. I knew they would come out early and press and we had to withstand that. I knew they weren’t as fit as us and I knew they’d die at altitude. And just at that moment when they died, they got their fluke goal. I mean the goal was nice, it was a great finish, but we just couldn’t clear it and it was against the run of play.”
Coyotes Emma Dayberry, Zareli Villa, Graciela Palencia, Rebecca Niblett all looked dangerous and ready to score.
Co-team captain defenders Madison Boyd and Bidart even launched quality shots. Boyd launched a missile from a ways out that caused everyone in the stadium to hold their breaths for a brief second before it bounced wide.
“Jeremy has been telling us all season to finish our opportunities because you only get a couple,” Bidart said. “And that’s what happened this game, they got their one chance and finished it. It feels horrible, but we gave it our all. I don’t think I could run anymore.”
LTCC goalie Claudia Janese was a strong presence in net throughout the night and made several nice saves, including a diving stop four minutes into the second half. In the first half, she charged an oncoming Bear Cub and swiped the ball while making a sliding tackle.
The Coyotes finished 17-3-3 overall and 12-0 in the Golden Valley Conference and captured their first league title. The win total was one of the best ever for the GVC.
“Special,” Evans said. “There are so many positives and I told them after that, ‘They should feel bad and have a horrible feeling now … but if this is your worst feeling in life, you’ll have led a great life.’ To summarize this season, I would say special.
“But I’ll say we did start nine freshmen today and we have a ton of freshmen coming back. We’ve got a ton of great recruits committed, so looking ahead to next year there is zero reason we can’t build on this again. I think this program has arrived and now we have to have success in the playoffs. We’ll build on this and we’ll be back. We’re not going anywhere.”
“I love this group, a lot better than last year,” Bidart said. “The intensity, the players that joined the team, they helped set a new bar and we all held each other to new standards. I hope that next year they do better. I’ll always remember the chemistry we had on the field. The wins were great but we were still a team when we lost just as much as when we won.”