The Las Positas women’s soccer team had equaled the program’s best ever season just by stepping out onto the field at San Joaquin Delta College for their Nov. 26 California Community College Athletic Association second round playoff showdown.
They had all put their names into the history books the moment the first whistle sounded, but yet the loss 90 minutes later was still a hard pill to swallow. And that wasn’t necessarily solely down to just being knocked out of the playoffs. It was more so because that was the last game this closely bonded team would ever play together.
“Of course, we wanted to continue in the playoffs, but that didn’t happen,” said Leilani Sierra, one of the Hawks captains and the Coast Conference Defender of the Year, looking back on her team’s first loss in over two months.
“It was unfortunate mostly because that was the last game we would play together, but we are all thankful that we were part of such a great team who had the same goals and were driven to achieve them together. The atmosphere ever since has been nothing but appreciation for one another.”
This Hawks team has been through the trenches together since the spring preparation period earlier this year.
Following the arrival of new head coach Andrew Cumbo and some new recruitments, the whole roster bought into the carefully designed plan that was laid out in front of them.
They worked tirelessly. They suffered together but also continued to develop with every training session, with every defeat. They took every bump in the road as a learning experience. And the results were fruitful.
The Hawks went from not winning a single game during a spring exhibition schedule filled with NCAA Division II opposition — to being crowned undefeated Coast North Conference champions with a 9-0-2 record, and all but sweeping the Coast Conference individual awards with 18 All-Conference Honors.
Included in those were Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards for Cumbo and midfielder Leila Anzo respectively.
Cumbo looks back fondly on all of the moments which contributed to making this group the formidable unit that they were while steamrolling through their conference schedule.
Despite the loss in the playoffs, how this team has progressed and what they have achieved can never be taken away from them, and Cumbo firmly acknowledges that.
“Last spring, we didn’t even win a game, or even score a goal,” Cumbo said of the intentionally challenging pre-season period. “We came a long way in 12 months because of their commitment to themselves, each other, and to Las Positas. They found success despite adversity. And they are champions. They will be forever.”
Cumbo also touched on the closeness of his team — a family-like feel which went beyond just the players. It stretched out to the staff and everyone who was involved within the team. It helped motivate everyone to work that bit harder to make each other proud.
“We laughed, we danced, we won a lot of games,” Cumbo said. “The season was great. We won a conference championship, improved a lot, and got really close as a group, both players and staff. I think I may have even done a cartwheel at one point! We got through everything together.”
There is no shame in bowing out of the post-season to a team that entered the playoffs ranked No. 4 in the country. And especially so if you take into consideration the Hawks’ performance. They were ever so close to causing an upset, but it just wasn’t to be. They lost 2-0.
The Hawks players were aware of the level of competition and the fine margins that come with the playoffs. They were all able to say that they are content with the season as a whole afterwards. Yet the loss still stung. They were not used to losing. It was an alien feeling. They thought they could conquer anyone on any given day.
“I didn’t expect to feel frustrated and disappointed. I expected to win,” said Raena Juarez, the anchor of the Hawks’ midfield. “We’ve been in situations where we were down and came back before, and I feel the game could have had a different outcome had our second half effort and confidence been high from the start. I truly believe we could have won the match.
“All of the emotions hit us at full time. It was difficult to deal with due to us not experiencing any of those emotions during conference. Being accustomed to smiles, the looks of disappointment on my teammates made the loss feel real.”
Cumbo’s team talk before the Delta match involved him telling his players that regardless of the outcome, they would leave the field as champions. And they did.
Despite ultimately not reaching the dreamland in the form of a state championship, they came away from this standout season with a conference title. They will be remembered forever with a banner at the “Hawk’s Nest,” and they walk away from the 2019-20 season as close friends who were able to win together.
“We all had common goals, and I think we gained more than we expected,” Juarez said when reflecting on the past 12 months. “I think one of the reasons we achieved our goals was because of the grit and passion we had as a team, but we also gained friendships that will last forever. We created moments and memories that will be talked about in the future.”
Cumbo echoed his midfielders’ thoughts while trying to put the loss and the season into perspective. Having been through it all before as a player and coach, Cumbo knows how to look at the bigger picture immediately.
He was able to be there for his players following the loss, when it felt like their world’s had just crashed on top of them. And in hindsight, he feels like there is nothing but positives to take away from their campaign.
“This is a special feeling that they will always have (winning Conference title),” Cumbo said. “But this is the reality of being a competitive athlete and a coach, especially in the playoffs. The season ends immediately. Unexpectedly. You are hurt. Your routine changes drastically. But it’s OK. We get through it together. And they’ve stood back up.
“Overall, everyone is satisfied and proud. We had a lot of unforgettable experiences this year and there are no regrets. We gave it our best effort. We went for it; and we are content with the outcome.”
Cumbo concluded his season reflection by speaking about the championship qualities of his team. Their humility, but at the same time confidence in their abilities. He credits that to his players’ characters but also to the endless work that the Las Positas athletic department puts in order to push the sports program’s for- ward.
“Even though only one team will hang up a banner this fall, we are producing champions everyday here in 2500 (Physical Education Complex),” Cumbo said. “Dr. Law (Dean of Athletics), the students, the faculty, the classified staff — they are trying to balance it all.
“But for this team, the biggest positive for me is how the players perceive themselves mov- ing forward in their lives. Their understanding and confidence that comes with being a champion has always been there. This was a special group and it will be impossible to replace them.”