A bounce, a collision and an opposing player in the right place at the right time ended the magical season of the Cal State Stanislaus women’s soccer team on Saturday.
Melanie Aguayo was on the spot after Warrior goalkeeper Chelsea Lewandowski and defender Karli Nestler collided while trying to corral a bouncing ball, and the Cal State San Bernardino midfielder tapped-home the golden goal five minutes into overtime for a 1-0 Coyotes’ victory at Warrior Stadium.
It was an indescribably difficult way for the Warriors’ season to come to an end. Stanislaus dominated possession in the game, outshooting CSUSB 11-4 before suffering its first loss of the fall.
The Warriors will pack the gear until next season, having posted an 18-1-2 record and their second California Collegiate Athletic Association title in three seasons. The Coyotes (12-6-4) advanced to meet Western Washington next Friday in the West Regional title game.
“We won a championship, which means there will be another banner going up on the wall,” said Stanislaus coach Gabe Bolton. “We felt like we were good enough to win a national championship. But any time you put up a banner and break every record at the school it will go down as the best season in the history of the school and a nice building block for the future.”
Yet, as he said, the Warriors certainly were capable of waging this campaign much, much longer.
The lone goal scored over the two games played at this regional site was somewhat of a fluke, but one that fit nicely into the Coyotes’ style of play. San Bernardino is a defense-first, defense-second kind of team, with a gift for finding the right moment to counter-attack.
That moment came five minutes into the first overtime, when midfielder Paige Kang controlled a ball at the center line and sent it blindly up the middle of the field toward the goal. Lewandowski came out toward the top of the box to control the bounce at the same time Nestler was retreating.
The ball became dislodged as the two collided, and Aguayo, a sophomore from Chino, was there to tap-home the miscue. It was her first goal of the season and second of her career.
“I wanted to get there, I needed to get there and I got there,” Aguayo said. “I knew anything could happen, so I just got to the spot.
“I always want to believe that I’m getting the chance to score, even if if doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. I got a good amount on the ball, but it happened so fast that I just wanted to get the ball going toward the goal.”
But San Bernardino never would have had the chance to advance without the play of its defense, which yielded few quality chances to the Warriors.
The Coyotes always had four defenders back, and in the overtime sent as many as eight back. It was as if they would be content to play to a scoreless tie and take their chances in penalty kicks, which was the method they used to defeat Cal Baptist in Thursday’s opening round.
“That’s the way we play,” said San Bernardino coach Travis Clarke. “We stay compact and make the other team completely break us down to have a chance to score. We don’t take risks. We were playing the best team in the country today and we knew what we had to do to have a chance, and we did that pretty well.”
It meant keeping Karenee Demer – the leading scorer in Division II – at bay, which the Coyotes did through the sheer volume of players they kept back.
“The last time we played them we weren’t sure how to stop her, and what we decided is that we had to come in thinking that we could stop her,” said center back Jill Wierzbicki. “She’s a big deal. She’s sits between our centerbacks and holding midfielder, so we had to focus on which centerback was going to come forward, and a lot of the time that was me.”
Demery still was credited with five shots, only one of which reached goaltender Chelsey Jones – the CCAA’s defensive most valuable player this season.
“They packed it in pretty deep and played counter-attack soccer, but I think we got our chances,” Demery said. “We were unlucky not to put it in the back of the net. We played with our hearts today.”
As the crowd of 874 on the sun-swept day was filing out of Warrior Stadium, Demery was asked to put her four-year career into perspective – beyond the two conference titles and school record 75 goals – as well as to look ahead at Warrior teams to come.
“I think this program is on the rise and will continue to rise,” she said. “Gabe’s great in recruiting and we have players here who are amazing and keep it going.
“These past four years have been amazing. This is a tough one to swallow but I’ll be able to look back on this some day and appreciate all that happened for me these last four years.”
Except for a collision and one tough bounce, it was an amazing career for Demery and an unforgettable season for the Warriors that might still have had a chapter or two waiting to be written.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.