Coming into Saturday’s match, the Westmont women’s soccer team knew what was on the line, especially the seniors: a chance to win at least a share of the Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season title for the first time since 2015.
No current player on the roster has experienced a GSAC title and neither had first-year head coach Jenny Jaggard.
Not until Saturday that is.
Not even three full minutes into the contest, senior Kira Nemeth took the drama out of the match by giving Westmont a 1-0 lead and the team never looked back, defeating Arizona Christian 6-0 in front of an excited crowd at Thorrington Field to clinch a share of the GSAC title alongside Vanguard who Westmont defeated head-to-head earlier in the season.
“It feels amazing. We haven’t won it in the past three years, so it’s truly a blessing to win it my senior year. It’s a dream come true,” Nemeth said.
“Words can’t really describe it. It’s something you dream about and you don’t necessarily think it’s a realistic way to start your career that way, so I’m super lucky. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this behind the scenes and I’m just really proud of the players because they’re the ones who do the work. They’re super coachable and it’s been a joy to work with them,” Jaggard said completely soaked after the team dumped water on her after the win.
With the win, the Warriors (13-2-1, 7-1) not only clinched a share of the title but will also be the hosts for the GSAC tournament beginning next week and also earned a bye through the quarterfinals.
Nemeth, a senior co-captain for Westmont, scored the opening goal of the match in the third minute when she took a pass from fellow senior Brooke Porter, ran down the far sideline into the box and shot the ball past the keeper. It was the defender’s third goal of the season.
“I don’t score a lot so it was pretty awesome to get an assist from Brooke, another senior. We were dreaming about those combinations today and what today was going to look like. It played out perfectly the way that we wanted it to,” Nemeth said.
In the 24th minute, it was another senior’s stellar play that opened up a lane for a score.
Senior forward Maddi Berthoud got around her defender and ran down the near sideline. She then played a ball into the box which found Katie Stella who tapped it to Bri Johnson, the team’s leading goal scorer. Not even five yards from the net, Johnson, without hesitation, shot the ball into the back of the net for her 12th goal of the season.
Throughout the match, it was clear Berthoud was eyeing a goal, hoping she could score on Senior Day.
On the day, Berthoud took six shots, three of which were on goal with two being saved by Arizona Christian’s keeper. Even though she would not finish with a score, Berthoud was more than happy to help the team in other ways.
“I am just so happy for the team. My role sometimes is to lead in other ways. I’ve learned this season to lean in and when it’s my game to shine in the spotlight that I need to embrace that and when I need to set up my teammates to embrace that,” Berthoud said.
Berthoud had a lot to be happy about, especially the fact that her younger sister, Isabelle Berthoud, scored her 10th goal of the season in the 45th minute to give Westmont a 3-0 lead heading into the break.
Much of the second half was a bit relaxed. Arizona Christian was playing tough trying to score a goal but could never really get great looks in the box.
A five-minute spurt in the final 15 minutes of the match, however, gave Westmont an insurmountable lead.
First, in the 75th, Johnson stole a pass on her opponent’s side of the field, took it inside the box and scored her second goal of the match to put her team up 2-0. The junior forward scored 10 goals in GSAC regular season play, scoring in seven of the eight games.
Sophomore forward Valeria Swisher scored just one minute later collecting a ball off a blocked shot and slotting it past the keeper for her second goal of the season.
Reese Davidson then capped off the scoring in the 80th minute with her third goal of the season to give Westmont the 6-0 lead and win.
As the final seconds were ticking down, every player on the Westmont sideline was yelling. Not only were they cheering their freshman counterparts, but they were also ready to celebrate a new experience and a season of hard work.
“We have been so close for three years and to finally do it. I mean, this is all we were working for and it feels so good. We deserved it,” Berthoud said.
The Warriors began their season with a 2-1 loss against South Oregon. They were also dealing with how to integrate 13 new freshmen to their team as well as getting accustomed to a new coach.
Westmont handled the early adversity as best as any team could, closing out the season winning 13 of its 15 matches, beating the then No. 1 team in the country, and winning a conference title.
Still, the Warriors know they have a lot ahead of them.
“We have to keep our heads on straight. It’s very easy at this point to have our feet off the ground a little bit, floating around and not realizing the reality of how tough our road is that’s ahead. I think we just have to get back to work, be humble, and be hungry. Soccer is a crazy game. Who knows what’s going to happen, but we’re going to battle and do our very best to go all the way,” Jaggard said.
It also helps that the team really appears to be peaking at the right time. Westmont scored a total of 12 goals in its last two games and has really opened up the offense giving them a slew of opportunities. As a team, that is all you could hope for.
“It’s definitely been a steady incline. We’ve been exploding in our offense and shutting them down defensively as well. I think we’re on the rise and are peaking into the postseason,” Nemeth said.
Westmont will be off until the semifinals of the GSAC tournament which will take place on Thursday, Nov. 14 at Thorrington Field.