The Las Positas women’s soccer team entered their first-round playoff matchup against Taft as a higher ranked, free scoring favorite. But on the day, the Hawks had to really dig deep and utilize all of their tools in order to secure a 3-1 victory and advance into the next round.
Head coach Andrew Cumbo’s team conceded only two goals from 11 games during their championship winning Coast North Conference campaign. This meant that the gritty, organized defense marshaled by Ally Vierra and Leilani Sierra had to be at their best to keep out a tricky Taft front line on a frigid Saturday night.
Supported by a star-studded midfield consisting of the Coast Conference Most Valuable Player Leila Anzo, and two All Conference selections in Camryn Adams (1st team) and Raena Juarez (2nd team) — the Hawks managed to adapt to the physicality proposed by the visitors and control the game in the middle of the field.
Cumbo did not hide the confidence he had in his team to progress into the next round in his post-game interview with the Express, but he did stop to praise Taft’s team and the challenges that the visitors asked his side to overcome during the game.
“We expected to move on after this round, but it wasn’t an easy game,” Cumbo said. “Taft is an amazing team, they did a great job out there, but our players battled. This was a good test for us, it gave us some adversity, and our team handled it.”
Despite getting an early two goal lead courtesy of twin-like distance strikes from Paola Barron and Raena Juarez — and dominating the game for the best part of the 90 minutes — the Hawks had to be cautious with what was an adventurous Taft side that refused to go away.
Just as the Hawks may have thought that the win was within their grasp, the visitors pulled a goal back on the 26-minute mark after a neat finish from Carla Salazar from just inside the box. This gave Cumbo’s team a bit of a reality check. It was an indicator which showed that they could not afford to get too comfortable.
“I know they were confident on the back of receiving a lot of individual awards this week, the spirits were really high,” Cumbo said. “But, as much as I don’t want to give up a goal during a playoff game, I think it was a good thing for us and the team continued to grind after conceding it.”
After the interval, the game was all Hawks. The hosts were winning every second ball in midfield and creating a lot of chances with Camryn Adams coming the closest — forcing a good save out of the opposition goalkeeper in the 47th minute.
The Hawks were relentless in putting pressure on the visitors, with Taft struggling to leave their own half at times. And it paid off three minutes after the hour mark. All the lights were on Paola Barron down the right-hand side as the Hawks No. 18 squared up against a handful of Taft defenders and went to work.
Barron’s dribbling dazzled her opponents, leaving one of them seated on the floor, before the Hawks winger broke into the box and unleashed a powerful strike which nestled in the back of the net. It was a huge goal which gave the Hawks a major lift while simultaneously sucking the air out of Taft’s approaches.
“I was seeing everything in slow motion during that whole sequence,” Barron said speaking of her second and the Hawks’ third goal. “I knew I had to cut in and take it myself once I saw Camille (Le Blanc) get marked. And after I saw the space in front of me I just remembered my coach saying ‘P, place it low and to the corner,’ and that’s exactly what I did!”
Barron’s double took her tally for the season to five, and Cumbo could not have been any happier with his midfielder stepping up to the task when it mattered most.
“It was hands down the best goal we’ve had this year and the best individual effort,” Cumbo said of Barron’s strike. “It was totally nasty what she did, and she is a quality player. She’s always getting better and I am so happy for her.”
At 3-1 the Hawks defense would then go on to see out the game — with the designated second half goalkeeper Maleni Morales only having to make some routine stops along the way.
The Hawks will now feel as though some pressure has been lifted off their shoulders after impressing in conference play. Getting that first nerve settling win on the board is always crucial, and Cumbo was delighted with what he saw out there from his players.
“I really liked our confidence,” Cumbo said. “We did make some adjustments during the run of play that I thought helped us, but we played a team that had a lot of midfielders, and we were still able to be successful and do what we wanted to do out there.”
This win now sets up a blockbuster second-round clash against No. 2 ranked San Joaquin Delta. The Stockton based side went 15-0-1 in their title winning Big 8 conference campaign, and defeated Reedley 5-1 in their first-round fixture.
The game is set to take place on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at SJDC, with the kick-off time to be confirmed in the coming days.