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Spartans lose heartbreaker to Conquistadors

February 20, 2002|By TOM RONCO

Special to this newspaper

Surrendering a goal only minutes into the match, the Central Union High School Spartan girls soccer team held strong the rest of the match before falling 1-0 to the Serra High School Conquistadors in an opening round San Diego CIF Division III match at Cal Jones Field in El Centro.

"This was a well-played match on both sides and you could tell that both teams were excited to be in the playoffs," said Serra coach Elizabeth Ward. "It was what you expect when the No. 8 and 9 seeds play."

"They rose to the occasion and I'm proud of them all," said Central coach Nabil Noujaim. "They represented Central High and the Imperial Valley League well."

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They still could have represented the Valley had Serra, of San Diego, not scored only three minutes into the game.

The Conquistadors (12-9-1) took the ball down the right sideline and a strong cross put the ball at the feet of left outside mid-fielder Bri Hennessy, who was unmarked.

Hennessy let fly from two yards outside the penalty box, catching Central goalkeeper Clarissa Maldonado by surprise.

The shot started low and then exploded high. Maldonado was able to get her hands up but she was unable to push the ball over the bar.

"Before the match I told her it would be a faster pace and the shot surprised her," said Noujaim. "However, she redeemed herself later in the match with three or four awesome saves."

"We knew if they scored it would come off a cross because they had quick feet," said Spartan sweeper Stormie Morton, who had a standout match.

"We shut them down after that because Jaime (Gray), Alma (Gutierrez) and Marisa (Guzman) play well together and we have Clarissa behind us," Morton added.

Stunned by the early goal, Central withstood a Conquistador onslaught for the next 20 minutes as the visitors tried to score an insurance goal to no avail.

"I thought after that score the spirit would be down," said Noujaim. "But the opposite happened and we found out that we have the caliber of a team that will not surrender."

Among those leading the way for the Spartans were defender Brenda Galindo, mid-fielder Rachel Montalvo and senior mid-fielder Vanessa Long.

"Everyone knew we had to play up," said Long. "Coaches Noujaim and (assistant coach Sandy) Montalvo prepared us for this and we all just stepped it up to another level."

In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Long sent several balls into the Conquistadors' zone where Anna Nava and Marisol Rodriguez tried to penetrate the Serra defense.

In the second half, Central had a breakaway opportunity when Long sent a ball deep to Rodriguez, who got behind the defense, but Serra's goalkeeper thwarted the attempt.

"This team surprised me and the momentum changed and they went forward," said Noujaim.

"We started slow but we stepped it up in the second half," said Long. "The match was physical but because this is CIF you have to be more physical."

Serra escaped two potential physical fouls in the second half as Rodriguez appeared to be pushed from behind on a breakaway and Nava was chopped down turning to shoot, both incidents inside the penalty box. Neither play was called by referees.

"I had beaten the defender to the ball and was trying to turn when she slid into me from behind," said Nava. "I thought since the ref was so close he had seen it."

Central ends the season with a 17-6-1 record overall.

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