Benefield: Santa Rosa-Rohnert Park girls soccer rivalry just kicking off
This game was always going to be about more than just one result. For Santa Rosa and Rancho Cotate’s girls soccer teams, the game on the Cougars’ field Wednesday night was just one piece of a much bigger picture.
Both of these teams have spent a season and a half riding roughshod over every other North Bay League-Redwood Division foe besides each other. From the moment the lopsided scores started mounting last winter, both teams have sounded the call that they belong in the more robust Oak Division, among the likes of Cardinal Newman, Montgomery and Maria Carrillo.
In the first half of league this year, Santa Rosa has beaten El Molino 7-0, Piner 9-0 and Healdsburg 8-0. Their win over Elsie Allen was a forfeit. It was much the same for Rancho, who beat El Molino 1-0 and Healdsburg 9-0 and also won the Elsie game in a forfeit.
Which is why Santa Rosa’s 3-0 win on Rancho’s home field Wednesday night is so precious for the Panthers and a painful blow to the Cougars. It felt like more than just one game. It was a major piece of the resume the teams are crafting to make their case that they deserve to be elevated to Oak.
“These girls have been wanting to move up for two years and they have been fighting for it. They want it. Even the seniors on this team who won’t have it next year, they want their team to move up, which is awesome,” Santa Rosa co-coach Nikki Kumasaka said. “We knew, coming in here, this is the game we needed.”
They got it, thanks in large part to the dynamic play of a freshman and a couple of timely goals.
Harmony James, just a ninth grader, put the Panthers on the board in the 36th minute of the game after a smart, extra pass in the box from sophomore Cielo Sanchez-Loyola gave Rancho’s junior goalkeeper Kaila Misi little chance for a save.
“It was a beautiful goal,” Rancho coach Eddie Chasco said. “It was very nice passing, it was unselfish and it was patient. They moved it through one, two, three players before it went in. That first goal, I give it to them, that was a nice setup.”
But the Panthers stuck a dagger in just seconds later when they were given a penalty kick, and Misi issued a yellow card, for taking down a streaking James in the box. Backup keeper Natalie Stockham slipped on a pair of goalkeeper gloves but couldn’t stop junior Avery West’s shot from the spot. It was suddenly 2-0 with seconds to play in the first half.
“That, I think, is what took our girls out of the game,” Chasco said. “This is a sensitive bunch and it’s hard for them to bounce back when something like that happens. So I think the first goal kind of set them at that point where we are teetering — where we can either fall back or move forward — but I think the PK kind of took them off that edge.”
It didn’t help the Cougars’ effort that in the second half, the Panthers seemed to solve the problems that sophomore Yazmin Garcia was presenting all of the first half.
Anything the Cougars got going, it was starting — and usually ending — with Garcia.