GILBERT — Wiping tears from their eyes and temporarily putting on smiles, the Flagstaff girls soccer team accepted the 4A Conference runner-up trophy Saturday afternoon at Williams Field High School.
Defeated by the No. 2 Salpointe Catholic Lancers in the state tournament for the second straight season, the No. 1-ranked Eagles suffered their first shutout loss to a 4A school since Jan. 28 2016 in the 3-0 loss.
Flagstaff chased Salpointe for nearly the entire match, as the Lancers put in the first goal of the match in the fifth minute. Kalista Kakou assured the sides would avoid a scoreless tie this time around, beating Flagstaff’s defense after a throw in deflected toward the Eagles’ net.
“The just got us quick and it was an unlucky touch. The player we knew could score a lot of goals got in behind us,” said Eagles head coach Holly Jones. “We knew to pay attention to her and unfortunately we took a bad touch, it was unlucky off of our leg going to her. She was able to get that breakaway that we knew was really, really dangerous.”
Kakou, an Eastern Washington commit, ended her day with a pair of goals as the Lancers repeated as 4A state champions. The junior finished the game’s opening goal with a low shot to the left post, past the outstretched arms of Flagstaff goalkeeper Lyza Bosselmann.
Brought down in the box, Kakou finished the match’s scoring with just six minutes remaining, and the Eagles failed to answer from the opening goal.
Despite earning three corner kicks in the final 23 minutes of the opening half, Flagstaff couldn’t break through a Salpointe defense that allowed just three goals during the regular season and finished the 4A tournament with a 22-0 goal differential across four matches.
A free kick by Taylor Hazlett ended up earning a corner in the 17th minute, with Maddie Shafer’s kick from the right landing in the midst of a crowded box. With both sides scrambling for the ball, Salpointe cleared it before Flagstaff could put a foot solidly on the ball.
Just three minutes later, Samone Marquez sent a through ball ahead to Zalma Batrez-Cardoza, with the resulting cross leading to another corner kick. Marquez sent the corner into the box from the left, in front of the goal but too high for any Eagle to put it into the net.
“Once you are down 1-0, the other team can play soccer differently. Once you are protecting the lead, you have gotten into the better position,” Jones said. “But I thought we did a good job trying to earn our opportunities to get us back in the game.”
FILLING IN FOR A LEADER
Prior to Marquez’s kick, Flagstaff lost one of its four seniors when Morgan Hodges went down with a foot injury and did not return for the remainder of the match. A second member of the backline, Lydia Pelletier-Butler, temporarily left the game after taking a ball off the shoulder on a free kick by Salpointe.
The ball came crashing into Pelletier-Butler prior to the official whistling teams to be ready for play, but the play went without penalty for the Lancers.
In Hodges’ place, sophomore Maya Shearon spent much of the afternoon anchoring the middle of the Eagles defense. Fighting off a series of attacks by Salpointe late in the first half, Shearon helped to clear out the trouble in front of Bosselmann.
“Maya has been a great player all year. She kind of goes unseen, but she really stepped up today and played her heart out and took Morgan's spot when Morgan went down,” Jones said. “I am looking for Maya to do a lot of that next year stepping into that role. She is a phenomenal player. Sometimes you don't notice it as much because we are winning, and there's not so much pressure in the back. But I see it in her everyday, every practice, every game. She played phenomenal today and it was really obvious, because there was so much pressure on her.”
Shearon joins a host of Eagles returning for the 2018-19 season following a pair of perfect regular seasons and losses in the state semifinals and title match. Of Flagstaff’s 18-girl roster, five were listed as juniors and another seven as sophomores.
“My goal is to be back in the same spot and as a coach do a better job preparing them for this game,” Jones said.
With its defense holding Salpointe scoreless for the final 35 minutes of the first half, Flagstaff added one last corner in the final minute of the opening half. Shafer’s corner led to a shot by Batrez-Cardoza, but the Lancers’ keeper saved the ball with little trouble.
“On our corner kicks, I thought we did really well,” Jones said. “We just weren't able to hammer one home like we have done in the past.”
Isabella Almazan added the second goal of the day for Salpointe, sending a ball from the right to the left side of the goal while inside the box. Flagstaff nearly answered back with a free kick leading to a header just over the crossbar four minutes after Almazan’s goal, but ended up in the hands of Salpointe’s keeper for a goal kick.
While Bosselmann came away with a few saves in the second half, Kakou’s penalty kick went to the right corner with the junior keeper just missing a save in the waning of the final.