The Santa Barbara High girls soccer team has struggled to find the back of the net for the majority of the season, scoring just 17 goals in 21 games prior to its CIF-SS Div. 3 Wild Card match against Westlake.
On Tuesday, however, the Dons unleashed an offensive onslaught, scoring two goals in the first 40 minutes and adding another in the second half to defeat the Warriors 3-0 and advance to the CIF-SS Div. 3 bracket where they will face top-seeded Flintridge Prep on Thursday.
“It just felt so good to finally see us scoring because it has been a focus of ours and a point of frustration because we’re winning 1-0 and so to have three goals is super exciting,” Santa Barbara coach Bridget Thomson said.
For Thomson, Tuesday’s win was especially nice given all the hardship the team has endured.
In Dec. 2019, the Dons’ coach was fired for reasons that are still unknown, prompting Thomson to step into the role of head coach.
Santa Barbara then started league play with losses in two of its first three games.
Since then, however, the Dons have accumulated a record of 5-1-2 in their last eight matches, surrendering just four goals while scoring 11.
“It’s a little surreal, it honestly still hasn’t quite hit yet,” Thomson said.
“Still, I am just the type of person that, I can’t like give any credit except to the girls. They do what we talk about in practice, they apply it, and they’re so coachable. I just feel like I am a witness to their success and what they’re achieving.”
Part of the reason for the improvement is the fact that the Dons play with a much quicker tempo with an emphasis on getting the ball to the outside and serving it in.
On Tuesday, it was sophomore Cate Hansen who was the beneficiary of this newer offense.
The forward subbed in at about the 20th minute and quickly made her prescence felt.
In the 28th minute, senior co-captain Sofia Capelletti controlled the ball inside the 18 on the right side. Fancy footwork by the forward allowed her to work around three Westlake defenders and serve a ball in toward Hansen.
The sophomore then stuck her right foot out and booted it past the Warriors goalkeeper to put her team in front 1-0.
Not even 10 minutes later, Hansen struck again. After continually playing the ball into the final third, the Dons eventually got a lucky bounce their way.
After a Santa Barbara player tried crossing the ball in, a Westlake player attempted to clear it. The result was the ball landing in front of Hansen who, from just outside the 18, fired a shot with her left foot that zipped past the goalkeeper and found the back of the net one more time, giving the Dons a 2-0 halftime lead.
“It felt really good just getting them in the back of the net like that. There’s nothing like that feeling really,” Hansen said.
“Really the key is just like connecting with the ball because when off a rebound all you have to do is get your foot on it and it might be a goal. That really happened on both my goals.
Coming into the match against Westlake, Hansen scored just two goals in her high school career but it was not through lack of effort.
Hansen has nearly found the back of the net multiple times but either great saves or shots being just a bit too high or wide thwarted her best efforts.
Nothing could thwart the sophomore on Tuesday, however.
“It just feels amazing you know. I just really wanted us to move on and so I just played the best I could,” Hansen said.
With a 2-0 lead, the Dons seemingly had nothing to worry about.
With arguably the best backline in the Channel League, Santa Barbara did not give many opportunities to the Warriors in the final third.
And, even when Westlake could muster a shot, senior keeper Lia Rodriguez was there to keep it away.
All in all, Westlake registered six shots, only three of which were on target.
“It was such a huge weight off our shoulder, I mean that’s like the most goals we’ve scored like all year,” junior defender Lizzie Goss said.
“Being a defender, it could be really frustrating when you work so hard to get the ball up and we just can’t finish. We get so close every time so getting those goals felt really good.”
All-in-all Goss believes Santa Barbara may be coming together at the right time, especially after gaining so much confidence from finding the back of the net three times.
“This feels really good I think we’ve worked really hard to get into this position so I’m excited to see how far we can go,” Goss said.
“I just think we’re in really good shape right now and I think we’re peaking and it’s exciting.”
The Dons’ final goal came in the 70th minute when Kasia Wolf took a free-kick from the left wing just outside of the 18.
Wolf put a right foot to the shot and laid it in right over the arms of the keeper, finding the back corner of the net for the score.
With the win, Santa Barbara will move on to face a Flintridge Prep team that has lost just one game. Still, Thomson believes her team can and will rise to the challenge come Thursday.
“We’re just going to do what we do best and what we did (Tuesday). We are going to play out of the back and stay composed and shut down their defense really quickly,” Thomson said.
I’m really happy with the soccer that we’re playing and we kind of hit our stride right when we should be.”