Junior midfielder Iryne Chu dribbles the ball while keeping it away from a Mission Bears defender on March 3 at the AAA Championship game at Washington High School. Photo by Christina Johnson
The varsity girls soccer team maintained their 21-year reign over the Academic Athletic Association championship title after defeating the Mission Bears 3–1 on March 3 at Washington High School.
Knowing Mission to be a fast and highly aggressive competitor, the Cardinals came into the field with matched intensity. The team trained for the championship by increasing the pace of their passes, according to head coach Gene Vrana. “We concentrated on moving the ball quickly and using the passing of the ball to overcome [Mission’s] strength and quickness,” he said.
Junior forward Lea Thauvin shoots for the goal. Photo by Christina Johnson
This strategy proved highly successful in the first half of the game. The Cardinals barreled through Mission’s defense, allowing sophomore midfielder Jojo Kofman to score the first goal 14 minutes into the game and a second goal soon after.
With the Bears struggling to find a way around the Cardinals’ strong defense and intricate passing combinations, the Cardinals ended the first half of the game in the lead, 2–0.
Two minutes into the second half, a sudden downpour hit the field. As the rain poured, the chemistry and communication that served the Cardinals so well in the first half began to break down. Utilizing this disruption, Mission was able to score a goal just four minutes into the period.
Sophomore defender Audrey Fuchs takes a shot at the goal. Photo by Christina Johnson
Soon, the rain stopped and with the sky clearing up, the Cardinals regained their composure. Sophomore forward Hannah McCord passed the ball to her teammate, sophomore defender Audrey Fuchs, who scored Lowell’s third goal.
Feeling the pressure, the Bears began to shove the Cardinals as they fought to control the ball. This physically hostile strategy resulted in two yellow cards and a high number of fouls for Mission.
The Bears’ aggressive strategy challenged the Cardinals to play fearlessly while making sure to take necessary precautions to avoid injury. “[Mission was] playing with a lot of heart and I think the challenge was…to keep up our intensity and speed of play, just so that we could move the ball quickly without getting hurt,” senior co-captain and midfielder Kikki Tucker said.
With Mission growing closer and closer to scoring a second goal, a crescendo of yells came from fans on both sides of the stadium. Encouraged by the cheers and feeling the pressure to score a second goal, Mission stepped up its physicality even more.
As junior defender Fiona Plunkett fought to protect the ball, a Mission player grabbed her arms, netting the Bears a foul from the referee and loud yells of “foul” from Lowell fans. This situation created a challenge for the Cardinals. “[We had to] control our own emotions and give back the same physical challenge, but play the right way,” Vrana said.
Soon, as the clock ticked down to just one minute remaining in the game, the Cardinals fouled, and the Bears were awarded a free kick. With the score at 3–1, the Cardinals stood in front of the Mission players to protect their side of the field. The Cardinals successfully thwarted Mission from scoring another goal, and they won the championship.
The Cardinals clap and cheer as each of their teammates recieve the championship medal. Photo by Christina Johnson
With another AAA title on the books for the Cardinals, graduating senior Tucker was excited that the regular season ended on a high note. “When they blew the whistle, we were so happy and a little bit relieved,” Tucker said. “[I am] really happy, especially because it’s my senior year, that we finished on a win.”
“Not everyone who goes into a championship game goes into win, but our girls, every single one, came to win.”
At press time, the Cardinals were preparing for the first round of the NorCal California Interscholastic Federation State Regional Tournament on March 6. The Cardinals were working heavily on defense, according to Vrana. He was very proud of how the team played during the championship. “Not everyone who goes into a championship game goes in to win,” Vrana said. “But our girls, every single one, came to win.”
Onwards to Norcals:
For the first time in Lowell history, the varsity girls soccer team not only secured a spot in Division 4 of the 2018 NorCal California Interscholastic Federation State Regional Tournament, but also emerged as champions. It is the first time the team could participate in NorCals because Lowell’s varsity girls soccer team was previously a fall sport; they could not participate in NorCals, which is in the winter.
To start off their journey to becoming champions, the fourth-seed Cardinals defeated fifth-seed Oakland Tech, 1–0, at Lowell’s home field on March 6. Two days later, the Ripon Indians hosted the Cardinals, where they triumphed over first-seed University Prep, 2–1, in the Regional Semi-Finals. On March 10, the Cardinals packed their bags once again to travel to Redding, where they faced off against third-seed Indians, in the championship game and won, 2–1.