Stockton, Calif. — The confidence of the Las Positas women’s soccer team was sky high going into their California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) playoffs second round matchup against San Joaquin Delta College. They felt almost invincible.
But going up against one of the nation’s fiercest teams was a challenge of a magnitude they hadn’t felt during their 13-game unbeaten streak heading into Tuesday afternoon. And after an admirable effort, the Hawks bowed out of the post-season — suffering a 2-0 defeat. But the score line alone is not able to depict the whole story of the game.
Delta is a nationally ranked powerhouse. They placed at No. 4 in the U.S. in the latest United Soccer Coaches rankings, and for good reason. After the disappointment of suffering a CCCAA Final Four defeat last year, the Mustangs picked up where they left off this fall en route to an undefeated season.
They breezed through the Big 8 Conference (14-0-2), securing the championship with the best defense and the third best offense in the state. Evidently, the Hawks were going to have their work cut out for them. And despite getting off to the worst start possible by conceding in the opening two minutes, head coach Andrew Cumbo’s side did not drop their heads. The Hawks rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
“We got off to a slow start, the whole first half we were off,” Cumbo said of his team’s early struggles. “We were always on the back foot and never really able to get a handle on the ball. It was sloppy.”
Indeed, it was. Delta pierced the Hawks defense with ease and drew first blood almost immediately after the first whistle. Conceding so soon is the last thing you want to do against a team that has not lost at home in two years, but that’s the card the Hawks were dealt and they had to play with it.
The Hawks never got going in the first half. Delta were overwhelming them with their relentless high press and constant rotation off the substitutes bench. The hosts made five changes in the opening 25 minutes. Consistently having fresh legs out on the field in the frosty, wet conditions certainly made a difference in the opening frame.
“We were just half a step off,” Cumbo said. “The combination of the slick turf and it being a little colder had an impact, but maybe Delta being perhaps a little more athletic than the teams we have played and how good they are caused us to be a step off, too.”
It seemed as though the Hawks were going to be able to limit the damage to just a one goal deficit at the half, but then a stroke of luck tipped in the favor of the home team. A hopeful free kick attempt at the Hawks’ goal from Delta’s leading scorer, Jaylin Meza, rattled the crossbar before bouncing off the back of goalkeeper Marisol Camargo and going in.
Just as the Hawks were beginning to gradually find their feet in the game, the hosts doubled their lead and regained all of the momentum. Suddenly, the level of difficulty for Cumbo’s side to make a comeback went from difficult to mission impossible.
But there was still hope. The coaching staff and the players brainstormed during the interval. They talked it over, they settled down — and it showed. The team went back out onto the field with new life in their legs.
“We made some adjustments. We just told the players to look at how far we’ve come and that they have another 45 minutes to just keep grinding,” Cumbo said. “And we were pleased with the response. They showed their heart and determination and they put themselves in a much better position in the second half.”
The Hawks really began to look like the Coast North Conference standout that they are after the break. The determination and grit that was ever so present in the first-round victory over Taft had re-emerged at Delta. This tight-knit group of players got back up, dusted themselves off, and really gave it a go.
The game no longer looked like the fourth team in the nation playing against a lower ranked regional opponent. The Hawks got on the front foot and began chipping away at the state’s finest back line. And they came close.
Haley Chitwood ended up having the best chance of the game after latching onto a lofted pass from Raena Juarez, but the freshman’s shot stung the palms of the Delta goalkeeper. In the end, despite a valiant effort, it was not enough.
Even though things never fully clicked for the Hawks in the final third, Delta really flexed their defensive muscles by containing the Hawks offense and adding their 19th shutout of the season.
The Hawks came up short, but they were able to show with their second half performance why this season’s group had such a special, undefeated season of their own. They gave it their all — representing themselves and the school colors, and Cumbo was beaming with pride when looking back on the whole season after the final whistle.
“I told them before the game, ‘you’re coming in as champions and you’re going to leave as champions,’” Cumbo said. “This is a special group. A great group. They kept working so hard all season, and to have the season start so slow and then go unbeaten for 12 or 13 games? It is just a reflection of how positive and encouraging they have been as a group.”