This is the golden era for the Christopher High girls soccer team. Two years ago, the Cougars showed plenty of promise and finished with a winning record. Last season, Christopher set program records by winning an A-league championship and advancing to the quarterfinals of the Central Coast Section playoffs. So what could the Cougars do for an encore? How about making further history by reaching a section playoff final?
That’s exactly what No. 3 seed Christopher did after knocking off No. 7 seed Aptos in a penalty kick shootout Wednesday in a home match that had all the drama and back-and-forth action would one expect from a postseason semifinal contest. After the teams played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer—80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime—Christopher prevailed in PKs, 3-2, to clinch a spot in Saturday’s championship game against Menlo School of Atherton.
“It’s unbelievable. Since my time here this is the most complete team we’ve had,” Cougars coach Matt Oetinger said. “It sounds pretty simplistic, but that’s the trick. It’s not a superstar with a supporting cast; it’s everyone pulling the rope.”
The Christopher players and coaches had a delayed celebration as the referee took a while to make sure the Cougars had indeed clinched things after goalkeeper Jordan Anaya stuffed an Aptos’ fifth PK attempt. Aptos was already trailing 3-2 at that point and went first, so it needed to make it, which would’ve forced Christopher to connect on its fifth PK attempt to win it outright.
However, the shootout session never went the distance because of Anaya’s brilliant play between the pipes. After the Mariners opened the shootout with a miss, Christopher went ahead when Aurea Martin drilled a shot to the back of the net. Aptos converted its second PK, and the Aptos goalkeeper blocked Christopher’s next attempt. Anaya answered with a resounding stuff save of her own, and Hanna Crawford converted her PK to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead in the shootout.
Aptos made its forth attempt, but Christopher’s Jenna Urrabazo made her shot to put the pressure squarely on Aptos, which needed to make its fifth attempt to stay alive. It wasn’t meant to be. Anaya moved to her left, went to the ground and easily corralled the ball to seal the outcome.
“(My mindset going into PKs) was mostly about anticipating,” said Anaya, the seasoned sophomore goalkeeper. “You have to mostly guess where they’re going to go and be ready to move to either side. It’s super exciting and I’m proud of this team for getting this far. It’s taken hours and hours of practice and team bonding bringing us all together. All of the pasta dinners and watching game film help us play well together.”
Save for the first three minutes of the contest, when Martin had two near-misses, Christopher was playing catch-up with Aptos, which dominated the possession in the opening half. However, the Cougars found their rhythm in the second half and into the overtime periods. Even though Aptos still had the advantage when it came to time of possession, Christopher had some decent chunks when it controlled the ball.
“We just talked to the girls (at halftime) and said this was it,” Oetinger said. “That regardless of what happened, for the seniors it was their last half on this field ever, and everybody on the team had to sell out and give everything they had. As all teams are at this time of the year, we’ve got girls dinged up, nicked and hurt and strained. And yet they’re sacrificing for the team—I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Jackie Sanchez, Samantha Rabusin and Alessandra Echauri all were active and making plays throughout, whether it was winning 50-50 balls or playing physical and knocking the ball away when it was near their goal. In addition to her standout performance during PKs, Anaya was tremendous in regulation and overtime. The 5-foot-3 goalkeeper stood tall, cutting off the angles beautifully and diving for numerous shots while coming off her line several times to ward off an Aptos threat.
“You never really want to go to PKs, but if we have to go to PKs, I will take my goalie over any goalie in the CCS,” Oetinger said.
Anaya said this was the third or fourth time she has been involved in a PK shootout—covering both her club and high school career—and it certainly showed as she looked confident and loose from the get-go. Even though Anaya has played in some prestigious club tournaments, Wednesday’s atmosphere made for a great experience.
“Winning this way is definitely different than winning with club because it’s your home field, hometown and everyone knows each other,” she said. “I played with a lot of these girls in elementary school, and that makes it special.”