After leading for almost 70 minutes, the Whitney High girls soccer team could not quell a Del Oro rally in the final 10 minutes of their CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal match and lost to the Golden Eagles 2-1 May 18.
Relying on defense after Ashley Hunter placed a pinpoint free kick over the Eagles’ goalkeeper less than seven minutes into the match, the Wildcats held their own. Faced with elimination, Del Oro had to put a bum’s rush on Whitney’s goal and managed to tie the match 1-1 with about eight minutes left.
“When Kiera (Utush) got hurt … we lost all organization in the back,” Whitney head coach Ana Jones said. “We were trying so hard not to let them get a score that we couldn’t score.”
As the clock ticked down, the Eagles’ Paige Martinsen broke by the defense and rifled a shot into the back of the net for a 2-1 Del Oro lead.
“After that second goal, we just fell apart,” Jones said. “Mentally we checked out after that second goal. It happens, we’re young.”
Jones will lose only three seniors. Scheduled to return are leading scorer Sammie Craig and goalkeeper Jordan Higgins. Kiera Utush, sister of 2014 league MVP and California State University San Diego player Aliyah Utush, is already showing all-league talent as a freshman.
“We have to mature. We have to have six to seven seniors that get it. That want to get the team where we’re supposed to be,” Jones said. “Next year looks good. I think we’re set.”
Jones said she is developing her players mentally as well as physically. It will be even more important next season when section soccer moves to the winter season. The move will also mean eligibility for the state championships.