Like two boxers standing in the middle of the ring exchanging haymakers, the Menlo-Atherton and Woodside girls’ soccer team spent the final 10 minutes of their regular season playing as wide open a brand of soccer you’ll want to see Tuesday evening.
The teams took turns running at the opposing goal as they each sought a game-winner. Instead, they settled for 2-2 tie.
“It was fun to watch this game,” said Woodside head coach Jose Navarrete. “Our girls gave everything they had.”
And yet, it wasn’t quite enough. The Wildcats’ tie, coupled with Carlmont’s 2-1 win over Sequoia, gave the Scots the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division championship, one year after they were nearly relegated to the Ocean Division. Woodside finishes second, two points behind Carlmont, while Sequoia earns the Bay’s final automatic playoff bid with a third-place finish.
Woodside (8-2-2 PAL Bay, 26 points) certainly gave it its best shot. Trailing 2-1 at halftime, the Wildcats responded to the challenge assistant coach Lindsey Abel gave them at halftime, wondering if they had what it took to win a match as important as Thursday’s game.
It’s a legitimate question, considering the Wildcats featured only three seniors and started three freshmen.
“M-A (5-4-3, 17 points) is a good team. I think our girls did their best,” Navarrete said. “Maybe some aren’t used to playing for a PAL championship. … The PAL is pressure. If you want to win it, you have to be ready to deal with (good) teams every week.”
Woodside came agonizingly close to scoring the equalizer nine minutes after halftime when Marlena Louis’ shot from 25 yards out clanged off the far left goal post. Rachel Mull was there for the ricochet, but her attempt was wide of the mark.
The Wildcats continued to pressure the M-A defense, but the combination of Juliet Dineen and Lexi Quinn in the middle of the back line halted wave after wave of Woodside attacks.
Quinn, a junior, may be the most versatile player in the PAL, with an ability to play literally any and every position. But when it comes down to crunch time, M-A head coach Jason Luce is putting Quinn smack dab in the middle of his defense.
“[Center back] is her natural position,” Luce said. “She can play anything, but when we want to play a little tougher defensively, she’s back there.”
The Bears, however, could not hold the Wildcats at bay forever and it took a hustle goal from one of the Woodside freshman that forged the tie. Another first-year player, Pilar Vanhuesden, triggered the play with a shot from distance that was initially saved by the diving M-A goalkeeper.
But she bobbled the ball right to Angeni Garcia, who was crashing the goal on the play. She beat the M-A defender to the ball and poked it past the goalkeeper to tie the score at 2-all with 12 minutes to play.
“[Garcia] was our leading scorer (in PAL play) without having played a complete game at forward,” Navarrete said, adding Garcia splits time on defense as well.
That led to the final 10 minutes of the teams charging up and down the field.
Woodside started the game looking determined to at least finish as co-champs, putting pressure on the M-A defense almost from the opening whistle. The Wildcats earned three corner in the first 10 minutes and Nos. 2 and 3 were intertwined. In the 6th minute, Mull sent a corner kick into the penalty box, where it pinged around until finding JoJo Meade stationed on the left. The ball came to her and despite the urging of Navarrete to shoot the ball on the volley, Meade took a touch to settle it, which was enough time for the defense to close and force a weak attempt.
Two minutes later, Meade did not hesitate. In the 6th minute, Mull, again, sent a corner kick into the box, where it, again, pinballed around before rolling right to Meade, who was, this time, stationed at the top of the penalty box. She stepped into the rolling ball and buried it for her first varsity goal in just her third varsity start.
That goal seemed to wake up the M-A attack and less than 10 minutes later, the game was tied. Earning a free kick at midfield, M-A Judy Demirkol placed a pass right on the foot of Analicia Bonelli, stationed on the right side of the penalty box. Her one-timer scooted just inside the far left post for the tying goal at the 15-minute mark.
Seven minutes later, the Bears had their first lead of the game. Building up through the midfield, Kari Trail sent a perfectly weighted through ball to a charging Alex Kraft, who angled toward the goal before pulling her shot inside the far right post for a 2-1 lead with 18 minutes left in the first half.
“That’s a classic game. … Went both ways,” Luce said. “It’s supposed to be like that.”
While Carlmont, Woodside, Sequoia and Ocean Division champ Capuchino all earned automatic bids to the Central Coast Section playoffs, there is a good chance two more Bay Division squads (Burlingame and M-A) and possibly Hillsdale and South City out of the Ocean that could also earn at-large bids.
“Other than the West Catholic League, I don’t know if there is another league, top to bottom, as good as the PAL,” Navarrete said.