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Benefield: Maria Carrillo girls capture NCS soccer title behind standout goalkeeper

  • The Maria Carrillo Pumas celebrate their first-half goal during the NCS Division 1 championship girls soccer match on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The Montgomery Vikings are going to see Claire Howard in their dreams. Or nightmares, more like it.

And who would blame them?

Howard, the senior captain of the Maria Carrillo Pumas girls soccer team, single-handedly saved the Pumas’ bacon for a long stretch in the second half of Saturday night’s North Coast Section Division 1 final with saves that were beyond phenomenal.

Maria Carrillo vs. Montgomery Girls Soccer


It was Howard who robbed Montgomery superstar Taylor Ziemer from goals at least three times, and snagged a series of other rockets that seemed destined for the net.

Howard was having none of it.

“They got the momentum for awhile,” she said after her Pumas secured their fifth consecutive NCS title. “It’s just one of those things where you have to come up big in big situations. I wasn’t going to let my team down.”

With their 2-0 win, the Pumas settle in next to Montgomery as the most successful program in Empire soccer history. A five-in-a-row title streak last happened when Montgomery did it from 1990-94.

In addition to Howard, Pumas fans can thank senior co-captain Brooke Dunbar, who rocketed home a shot with her left foot midway through the second half that took the life out of the resurgent Vikings.

“I saw it — there was a small opening and I took it,” she said. “We needed that second goal.”

“Brooke did what Brooke’s done all year,” said Pumas head coach Debra LaPrath. “That keeper had no chance for that ball.”

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