After a season that tested every ounce of Lemoore’s will, the ninth-seeded Tigers travel to Yosemite High today to take on the eighth-seeded Badgers in the CIF Central Section Division III opening round playoff game.
Lemoore’s season was riddled with injuries, a seemingly never-ending losing streak and a coaching change when first-year assistant Valarie Burkett took over as head coach after Janet Brown had to take a leave of absence.
“We have had a very tough season,” Burkett said candidly.
Still, the Tigers pressed on and, after going 0-7-2 at one point, finally got another win when they defeated rival Hanford 3-0 last Tuesday. The win was not only a huge win for the girls on Senior Night, but it got them into the playoffs.
“I think the girls are just going to build off that momentum,” Burkett said. “It’s always a different mindset when you’re playing your rival team, but I think just getting that feeling of, ‘OK this is what it feels like to win’ and now taking that into playoffs I definitely think that set us up going forward.”
The Tigers posted an 11-10-3 overall record and 3-7-2 West Yosemite League record, which put them in fifth.
“Our league is very strong,” Burkett said. “Our league games have definitely set us up for success.”
Burkett said the strength of the league should help the girls moving forward and the adversity the team faced throughout the season is another thing they’ll have in their corner. They know what it’s like to be in tough games and the feeling of losing.
Some of that losing came in the form of a tough 4-3 overtime loss to Division I opponent Redwood and a 1-1 overtime tie to Division II school El Diamante.
“For us, losing has kind of been what we’ve done this season. We know what it feels like to lose,” Burkett said. “Well [Yosemite] know what it feels like to win. They have that mentality so we just have to come out and we can’t hold anything on our shoulders from the past.”
Burkett was referring to Yosemite’s 13-6-1 and 6-3-1 North Sequoia League record, which had them finish third in league. The Badgers enter the postseason going 4-0-2 in their last six games and average 4.2 goals per game, while allowing 1.4 goals per game.
Yosemite forward Peyton Garner will definitely command some attention as she leads all Division III scorers with 48 goals. Lemoore scored 55 goals as a team in their entire season.
It must be noted though that 13 out of 20 of the Badgers’ opponents came against Division IV and Division V opponents.
Burkett said trying to slow down Garner will definitely be a goal, but she doesn’t want one player to dictate what Lemoore will do. She wants her team to come out and play their soccer and the way they’ve been playing against league opponents.
The Tigers will counter with some of their best players in Kalijah Sanders, Sami Chedester and Chloe Chedester. The defense allowed 1.25 goals per game on the season and the offense put up 2.3 goals per game.
Each team will have scoring chances and despite not having home-field advantage, Lemoore has performed well under pressure. It’ll be paramount for the Tigers to bury their opportunities early on, but they’ve also shown they can lead a comeback if needed.
Interestingly enough, the two teams have actually met before. It was only the fifth game of the season for both teams when Lemoore won 3-0 on Dec. 2 in the Lemoore High School Lady Tiger Classic tournament.
Of course, that was a long time ago, so Burkett isn’t drawing any conclusions from the past win.
“It was the beginning of the season,” Burkett said. “Each team gets better throughout the season.”
Instead, she wants the Tigers to think like they’ve never played Yosemite and know nothing about them. She doesn’t want anyone thinking they’ve beat them before and that will translate to an automatic victory. Burkett wants a winning mindset.
“This is a whole different season basically,” Burkett said. “You use preseason, you use season, to prepare you for postseason. It’s a whole new season.
Much healthier now, the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone to make a run in the Division III bracket. The opening-round playoff game begins at 6 p.m.