HANFORD — With all the success the Golden Bears have had over the past three seasons, superlatives are starting to become hard to find to describe the team.
Behind a strong defense and an even more potent offense, Sierra Pacific defeated Corcoran 6-0 and finished off their first-ever undefeated East Sequoia League season in school history. The Golden Bears went 12-0 in the ESL (23-3-2 overall) and posted eight shutouts on the way to a perfect record.
“It’s exciting because they’ve worked really hard for the last four years, this senior group,” Sierra Pacific coach Christa Smith said. “They went into every single game not too confident, definitely not playing overconfident and they went into every game knowing that they had to win one to get to the next.”
Statistically, the Golden Bears had their best defensive season in school history by allowing only five goals or 0.42 goals per game. They bested last year’s effort when they allowed six goals.
The offense was just as good as the team equaled their own league record set last season with 47 goals (3.92 goals per game). The victory marked the third time this season they shut out an opponent 6-0.
But before any celebrating took place, Sierra Pacific honored its five seniors during Senior Night. This year they were Kaitlin Thayer, Makayla Alapisco, Delaney Winters, Isabella Tomas and Mackenzie Spencer.
“Freshman year I came onto the team … and finished league with no wins and now I’m a senior … and now that we’re going undefeated in league, I’m just blessed to be here,” Thayer, a four-year varsity player, said.
Thayer referenced the 2016-17 squad which went 0-7-3 in league and scored a total of two goals. Since going winless in league, the team has gone 30-2-2 the last three seasons, including a 23-1 record the last two seasons.
Dominant doesn’t even begin to describe the tear that this team has been on.
“I can’t pick one word to sum our team up, but I think we’re overcomers,” Thayer said. “This year going into 2020, we’re going to do it. We feel really confident. Our last two games we were down … we came back and won by two or more goals and I think that set fire under our feet to know what we’re able to accomplish.”
But despite all the success the five seniors have had, the only thing missing is the elusive Central Section championship, which they finished as runner-up in Division V the last two years. The Golden Bears were moved up to Division IV this season, but Thayer still believes this is finally their year.
“We’re a super young team and we know how the Valley championship works,” Thayer said. “We know the pressure and all I have to say is third time’s the charm.”
It was the juniors and sophomores making their offensive presence felt in Wednesday’s match at the Neighbor Bowl. Kayla Sizemore and Emma Martella, both juniors, each scored twice, while second-year players Krystal Reyes and Elizabeth Statler added the other two goals.
Sierra Pacific got off to a slow start, but eventually dominated a less-talented Corcoran (0-18, 0-11 ESL) team. The Golden Bears outshot the Panthers 32-2 and had 20 shots on goal to the Panthers’ one.
“We’ve been practicing our passing and we have playoffs next week, so we just tried to keep our cool in this game … we tried to implement what we’ve been doing at practice,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore bookended the match with the opening goal in the 19th minute and the final score in the 77th minute. After 15 minutes of constant pressure in the attacking third, Sizemore found space in the box and buried the shot.
“I saw Emma get the ball and I saw the opening, so I just took it,” Sizemore said. “I was making sure I wasn’t offsides and I had to hit it in so we could get our motivation up.”
The lead doubled with Reyes’ goal in the 28th minute. A throw-in by Thayer was placed on the back post by Martella’s header to an unmarked Reyes who converted the opportunity.
Statler (42’) scored right before halftime on a corner kick where the Corcoran goalkeeper was unable to punch the ball out cleanly and put it into her own net.
Leading 3-0, Martella added two in the second half six minutes apart. Her first came in the 53rd minute on a defensive breakdown by the Panthers. She slotted the shot past the goalie and then split two defenders in the 59th minute before scoring again.
Sizemore finished the night with an 18-yard shot near the top of the box for her second goal.
“We have depth on the bench so no matter what combination we put on the field, they complement each other really well,” Smith said.
Spencer, who suffered a season-ending injury early in the year, took the opening touch of the game before Sierra Pacific kicked the ball out of bounds to allow her to come off the field. It was a last sentimental touch for the senior.
Sierra Pacific will wait for the playoff brackets to be released on Saturday to find out where they are seeded. According to MaxPreps, they are currently ranked No. 2 in Division IV behind Orcutt Academy.
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or email@example.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.
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