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Kofa beats Chaparral for first playoff win under Velasquez
Chaparral was bigger, faster and stronger, but Kofa's back line didn't seem to mind.
After scoring late in the first half, the Kings shut down the Firebirds' offensive attack and held on to win their first playoff game under head coach Marisela Velasquez 1-0 Tuesday night.
The lone goal came off the foot of freshman forward Cinthya Samaniego in the 33rd minute. She received the ball at the top of the box and with two defenders closing in fast, she buried it in the right corner of the net from 18 yards out.
“I had to do it,” Samaniego said. “I had to do it fast because the defense was coming, so I just went fast.”
Shots were few and far between for both teams, so pounding in a rare opportunity gave the Kings a new attitude.
“We've had trouble with our forwards not just not finishing, but not pulling the trigger, not taking the shot,” Velasquez said. “And Cinthya today, when she got the ball I felt like she had that swagger to take it and sure enough she took that shot and buried it in the corner.”
Once Kofa had the lead, the whole team, including senior goalkeeper Danielle Torres, knew the game rested at the feet of the defense.
“We were practicing last night and my trainer said, ‘You guys will win the game as long as no goals go past you,'” Torres said. “And I was, like, that's a lot of weight on my shoulders but I knew what we had to do and what I had to do.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on me but we handled it. Luckily, I have a phenomenal defense. The few times they did get through I got them.”
Although Velasquez knows that teams might back off the offensive side of the ball with a 1-0 lead, it's not something she'd prefer her team to do.
“I don't like that to happen, but it happened. The last thing I want to do is take the foot off the pedal because if we have some momentum and start pressuring and knocking on the door, getting some corner kicks and that's how we scored. So I want to keep that going because if we get another one in, it's a lot harder for them to climb out of a 2-0 hole.”
Toward the end of the first half the Chaparral's size and physicality started to show. After some big collisions and no cards being pulled from the referee, it was clear that the rest of the match would only get tougher.
“People started pulling fouls left and right,” said senior defenseman Nicole Hartman. “As the game keeps going and the score is that close, people are going to get intense and throw themselves everywhere just trying to get the ball.”
Chaparral played the ball in the air as much as they could, winning nearly every header throughout the game.
“I did see our midfielders were jumping,” Velasquez said with a laugh. “I told them that is the highest I've ever seen you jump, but still you jump that high and the girl got on her tiptoes and still beat you. Sometimes our defense just needed to clear it because they were under a lot of pressure, but if they had the time, I actually wanted to hit our feet because the few times that we did hit our feet, they were able to connect and switch it and do some things with it.
“We weren't going to win it in the air unless they stumbled or it went over their heads. There's nothing you can do about that. There's not much our girls can do, they can't jump any higher.”
After all the dust had cleared and the clock reached triple zeros, the realization of what the Kings had accomplished finally started to settle in.
“This is my fourth time in the playoffs and the other three times it was an away game and it was just a one and done,” Velasquez said. “I kind of couldn't believe it. I'm speechless.
“I'm so happy for the girls, so happy for the seniors. The seniors make up most of our back line and they stepped up today and did awesome.”
For the seniors like Hartman and Torres, their 13-1 dream season continues at 2 p.m. Saturday when they take on No. 2 Desert Vista, which beat Westview 5-0 Tuesday night.