For 70 minutes, neither Xavier or Desert Vista girls soccer teams could find the right combination. Both teams had its share of possession although the Gators seemed to gain the upper hand in the second half.
Nevertheless, it took a defender to break the deadlock and sent the Thunder disappointed in its first state title match since 2009.
“It was awesome,” Xavier defensive star Kelly Peay, whose second goal of the season was the difference on Saturday. “The first half really wasn’t our game. We didn’t gain possession as much as we would like to but second half we turned it around. We played as a team. We got the goal and from there we just played defense and won the game.”
Peay kept turning Thunder chances away all afternoon in the Division I state girls soccer championship game at Campo Verde.
But until she got her head on a corner kick from Alexis Allard just under 10 minutes from the end, the Gators were just coming up short. The defense made the goal stand to give Xavier its eighth state championship – the first since back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
“The goal was fantastic,” Xavier coach Barb Chura said. “We spend so much time on set pieces because it’s often set pieces in these higher level games that win games and lose games. It just so happened that we were on the winning end of it.”
Desert Vista coach Marvin Hypolite said, “It’s hard to get beat on a set piece. One goal.”
Hypolite praised his defense but said the transition from midfield up did not go as well, leaving the Thunder short of opportunities.
“I wanted a little more, in terms of execution,” the second-year coach said. “We stuck in there, gave it all we got.”
A lackluster first half saw the Thunder have the majority of possession but Xavier getting the best chances. Emily Vandenberg’s corner kick to Peay was saved by Desert Vista sophomore goalkeeper Alexa Ryder in the 16th minute.
And Xavier still had to weather the final nine-plus minutes and survived despite Peay getting a gash next to her right ear after a collision with Desert Vista’s McKenna Rodriguez in the dying seconds. Almost reflective of the year, said Chura.
“That’s the story of the season,” she said. “At one point we had eight starters out. Through everything, through sickness, injuries, transfer, just throughout the whole year. It started way back in December. It seems like an onslaught. But we just kept telling the girls that the next girl is going to have to step up, the next girl is going to do it.”
The Desert Vista defense, anchored by 6-foot-1 Hannah Stevens, stayed solid the whole night, outside of the 70th minute corner kick. The Thunder turned away numerous opportunities in the second half.
Early in the second half, Cunningham passed to Allard in front of the goal but Stevens blocked it back to Allard, who fired again and it was stopped by Ryder.
Desert Vista reached the finals for the fifth time in school history. The Thunder has one state title (2005).
“I’m proud of the girls. I am proud that they were able to take the coaching, they were able to respond to the coaching and go out and really, really buy into the things we have said. So it is foundation we are trying to build.”
“This season was a successful season. We’re walking away with the sour taste in our mouth right now that doesn’t really characterize our season. Our season was very, very successful. They have accomplished a lot of barriers, a lot of ground this season. I am very proud of them.”
Bravo is a East Valley based freelancer.