It was a bittersweet ending for a team that had accomplished so much in its early history. But in its postseason debut, No. 8 Christopher (12-1-2) lost 3-0 to No. 9 Leigh (8-6-1) Thursday evening in the first round of the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“We wanted to beat them,” said senior Maddie Peterson, fighting back tears. “It was a little rocky. We had some good passes and we were communicating well with each other. But they had more experience.”
In just four short years, the program has been transformed from a team struggling to pick up wins while learning to play the game to a team that made the playoffs for the first time while losing just once in a Mission Trail Athletic League championship season.
“There were a lot of tears probably because you always look to get a little farther,” said Christopher coach Lia Peterson. “It was a great accomplishment. I am proud of the girls for sticking to it.”
Only two or three of the current players had even picked up a hockey stick before they started at Christopher as freshmen, coach Peterson said.
“I’ve grown a lot and made some good friends,” senior Lily Nguyen said. “This same group has played together now for three years. The coaches have done a great job of building the program. It was a new opportunity for me and I have become more confident as a result.”
Part of the success is due to players being flexible, coach Peterson said
Kyle Robinson, who was a part-time goalie last year, took over full time this year, and Emily Hilkene moved from forward to defender this year.
“We did a lot of moving players around to get them in the positions we needed, and it paid off,” said Peterson, who has coached varsity for two years and JV a year before. “For me, being there when they first started and were trying to figure out how to play the game, it has been a great thrill.”
It was only the second time this year that Christopher played on the much faster artificial turf at the Garcia-Elder Sports Complex. They played Gilroy High in a scrimmage earlier in the season.
“In comparison to our grass field it is a huge difference,” coach Peterson said. “We came out yesterday and practiced to remember how to do it. There are only two teams in the league that have a turf field.”
Leigh used its size advantage to create some space in the middle. But Christopher didn’t back down.
“What we lack in height, we make up for in speed and power,” coach Peterson said. “We are a pretty tenacious group and they put their all out there. There was a lot of chemistry with the girls. There was a lot of laughing, but there was a lot of work going on.”
Leigh opened up the scoring with a goal off a short corner by Jessica Hauck with 18 minutes left in the first half.
In a game that featured few scoring opportunities, Sherelle Butler had Christopher’s best chance to score on a break away with 10 minutes left in the first half. She stole the ball about 20-yards out and had a one-on-one chance, but the Leigh goalie made the save – her first of the game.
“I really wanted to score there,” Butler said. “We had a good team effort and showed good team spirit. We just didn’t get enough chances to score.”
Just three minutes into the second half, Maddy Fama scored the second goal for Leigh. The 100 or so fans in attendance, bundled up to stay warm as temperatures dropped into the 40s, waited as the referees huddled together to determine the goal’s validity. It was ruled that it indeed was a goal and a collective moan went through the home crowd while the Leigh fans began a celebration chant.
The Longhorns scored the back-breaker with 3:57 left on a second chance attempt.
The scoring chances were about the same for both teams, but Leigh was able to capitalize better on their opportunities. Each team had five short corner attempts. Christopher had four saves while Leigh had three.
“It was pretty even,” coach Peterson said. “Leigh plays in a tougher league so they had the advantage there. We put up a really good fight. That is all I can ask of them – just leave it all out there and have a good time.”
Leigh faces No. 1 Los Gatos on Saturday.