In a season late-in-coming and always tenuous, the Wildcat girls’ soccer team hosted Los Altos for the finale last Thursday, April 22. Before taking to the pitch against the Eagles, the Wildcats honored the eight seniors who were playing their last game on Helm Field. The Cats started the game atop the De Anza Division standings, looking to complete an undefeated season.
The Eagles, who entered the game without a victory on the season, had other plans. After some initial back-and-forth in the middle of the field, Los Altos scored first, firing the ball into the upper right corner of the net beyond the outstretched arms of junior goalkeeper Julia Massa in the 6th minute. A minute later, off of a free kick from twenty-five yards out, the Eagles struck again. Massa would not surrender another goal in the game, but the Cats found themselves in an unexpected two-score hole and started to attack in earnest.
The increased aggressiveness paid off in the 12th minute, when senior Elianna Wong took a shot that was deflected, resulting in a corner kick. Senior captain Emily Nedom hooked the ball into the box, where it careened off of three players before Wong scored it off of the keeper’s leg.
While the chances continued, the equalizer proved much more elusive. In the 18th minute, Nedom fired a shot that was deflected over the net. On the ensuing corner, Wong’s shot was just wide. In the 19th minute, Wong deftly eluded a defender and sent a ball glancing off of the crossbar. Moments later, Nedom sent an arcing cross to senior Nicole Krockenberger who kicked it wide right. In the 35th minute, Wong lofted a ball into the box toward Krockenberger, but it was poked away by a defender after the first touch.
While the offense was pressing, the Wildcat defense was stout, anchored by senior Gianna Dal Porto patrolling the middle and seniors Helene Babalis and Jamie Conklin in the back, stifling any developing attacks the Eagles tried to muster. The frenetic half came to a quiet end with the Cats still down 2 – 1.
Los Gatos renewed its attack in the second half. In the 44th minute, senior captain Lauren Pederson passed the ball to Nedom for a shot that was tipped away. A minute later, Pederson led Krockenberger down the right sideline, but the ball went out of bounds. Nedom won the ball in the 47th minute and sent a glancing shot off of the right post. In the 49th minute, another Nedom laser bounced off the keeper’s hands, who managed to corral the ball a moment before Wong could get a touch. A Massa kick in the 51st minute sailed, bouncing over everyone, and Wong outpaced the defenders for a left-footed shot that rose just over the goal. A give-and-go between Pederson and Krockenberger down the right side led to a shot by Nedom that the keeper tracked down. Amid the flurry of attacks, the Cats remained behind.
Undeterred, the Cats kept working the right flank, with Krockenberger chasing down leading passes again and again. The fate of the Cats turned on a play in the 64th minute, with a beautiful sequence of touches from Babalis to Conklin to Nedom, who sent a perfect ball to Krockenberger on the right edge of the box. The play covered more than eighty yards in eight seconds. Krockenberger deftly dribbled passed the last defender and snuck the ball into the short side of the goal to bring the Cats even.
A rejuvenated squad kept the pressure on, with Krockenberger relentlessly attacking the right side. She was fouled just outside the box in the 79th minute, earning a free kick for Nedom. While senior Madeleine Dang occupied the goalie’s attention, Nedom curled the ball around the near post for the go-ahead score; she was immediately mobbed by Wong and the other seniors in a jubilant embrace. The Cats ran down the remaining time and secured the win, earning an undefeated season (10-0-2) and a league championship. And a standing ovation from the elated crowd.