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Santa Rosa High girls claim soccer title in dominant season

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Goal No. 1: Win. Goal No. 2: Win the division. Goal No. 3: Don’t allow any goals.

Check, check and check for the Santa Rosa High School girls soccer team, which Thursday night wrote itself into the record as the undefeated North Bay League-Redwood Division champs, running the table 10-0.

Even more impressively, the Panthers accomplished the feat with a season-long clean sheet — zero goals allowed through the entire NBL schedule.

Santa Rosa goalkeeper Sami Smelser, just a sophomore but in her second season as starting keeper, calmly and coolly led her team from the back as the Panthers downed Rancho Cotate 2-0 to win the divisional title outright.

Rancho finished 8-2, its only two losses to Santa Rosa.

Both teams look forward to Sunday and learning their North Coast Section seedings and postseason opponents.

Panthers coach Mark Marcarian knew the Cougars would battle for a share of the title and that Santa Rosa’s 3-0 win when they last met in January didn’t necessarily mean a win Thursday was in the bag.

For the first 15 minutes, Rancho seemed to play with more urgency and created more chances than the Panthers. But the Cougars weren’t able to find the back of the net.

At the 25-minute mark, though, Santa Rosa just missed on a long free kick, and the Panthers turned the corner, winning the possession battle for much of the half and pressuring Rancho constantly.

With six minutes left in the half, Santa Rosa’s Chelsea Juarez-Flores beat two-on-one coverage and rolled a shot past Cougars goalkeeper Kaila Misi’s right.

A 1-0 lead with Smelser in goal buoyed the Panthers.

“Sami always pulls it out,” Marcarian said.

“Last year as a freshman. she wasn’t as vocal,” Santa Rosa co-coach Nikki Kumasaka said. “Now she has the ability to lead the team from the back.”

Santa Rosa kept Rancho’s attack in check, while Misi made several strong saves to give her team a chance.

But with 26 minutes left in the game, the Panthers put the contest out of reach at 2-0 when winger Avery West dinked a ball into the net after a throw-in ricocheted around in the box.

“It was a big cluster,” West said. “I found my leg in there. I was kind of expecting one because I was working hard through the whole game.”

When the Panthers grab a lead, West said, they place their faith in Smelser to hold it.

“Our defense is calm, and she’s calm,” she said. “It’s a good way to ease into the end of the game.”

Rancho coach Ed Chasco praised his team’s play against a physical Santa Rosa team.

“I think we played a terrific game. We played possession pretty well,” he said. “Santa Rosa came out aggressive. They wanted it. They took it.”

The Panthers finish 10-0 in the NBL-Redwood and 14-4-2 overall. They scored 53 goals in league, allowing zero.

Rancho finishes 8-2 in the division and 11-8-1 overall.

Coaches from both teams said they are hoping to move up to the more competitive Oak Division next year.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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