Benefield: Maria Carrillo, Montgomery reignite their girls soccer rivalry

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Freshman Maddie Gmitter had been in the game all of about three minutes before she put her mark on it.

The Maria Carrillo midfielder came on as a substitute with perhaps 13 minutes to play in the first half in the highly anticipated North Bay League-Oak Division girls soccer match between rivals Carrillo and the Montgomery Vikings. Gmitter may not know all of that backstory; after all, she’s never played the Vikings or experienced the competition between these two teams.

But her left-footed corner kick was curving so fiercely into the Vikings’ net that it was almost a done deal before junior Ashley Frye tapped it in to put the home team ahead.

The goal put the Pumas up and gave them a lead they would not relinquish despite a series of late charges by the Vikings deep into the second half. They won 2-1 and move to 6-1-2 overall and 1-0-1 in the NBL-Oak Division. The loss drops Montgomery to 4-3-2 and 0-1 in league.

Pumas coach Debra LaPrath said her players have struggled this season to come out sharp at the opening whistle. Not so on Tuesday night.

“It was the best first half we’ve had in eight games,” she said. “I said at halftime, ‘I don’t know this first-half team, but I’m happy to meet you.’”

The game and the rivalry are such that some of the best moments, and biggest cheers, came on defensive takeaways — a defender stripping a streaking striker or a battle between midfielders.

Pumas central midfielder Brynn Howard was a workhorse for her team all night, taking players on but, perhaps more importantly, injecting some calm into the Pumas when the game struggled to settle down.

“Bryn had the best game she’s had,” LaPrath said. “Bryn arrived tonight.”

“In recent games I’ve kind of been playing it more safe, so tonight I really focused on stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking on players, and dribbling and looking to get a shot off rather than pass it,” Howard said.

But it wasn’t Howard who got the Pumas’ second goal — it was senior Jocelyn Rojas, who chipped Vikings goalkeeper Natasha Imboden after getting a nice setup pass from senior Frances O’Donnell. With that one, O’Donnell put her team-leading assist tally at four.

That second strike was just moments into the second half, but it served as a wakeup call, finally, for the Vikings.

“They outplayed us. They played harder from the get-go,” Vikings coach Pat McDonald said. “It almost took the second goal to wake us up.”

That less-than-sharp start has been an issue this season for the Vikings, who played Tuesday night without the services of all-everything junior Micky Rosenbaum, who was out with an injury.

“In a lot of our games, we have been scored on first — then it wakes us up,” McDonald said. “We have the talent; we can usually come back. Tonight we couldn’t. We’ve got to change that.”

Vikings senior Cindy Arteaga was not going down lightly, though. She was everywhere for Montgomery and had a number of solid chances but could not convert.

“We had a bunch of opportunities,” McDonald said.

With three minutes to play and Montgomery knocking, almost pounding, on the door, Arteaga finally put the Vikings on the board after taking the ball from midfield, beating a string of defenders and finally, with a deft move to her right, eluding junior Pumas goalkeeper Taylor Little to slot home a shot into an open net.

But Little would not be beaten like that again. Moments later, she made a fantastic and heart-stopping save. again against a charging Arteaga — coming out to challenge Arteaga one on one and getting enough of the shot to kill what looked to be a Vikings equalizer.

“Taylor has arrived,” LaPrath said. “She dropped those one on ones. There were a lot of good through balls that they played, which they are very good at, and they are very fast up front. But Taylor is so good off her line, she snuffed so many of those through balls.

“She is unbelievable,” LaPrath added.

“We were in this game the whole time and I wasn’t about to give it up at the very end,” Little said.

The Pumas, who opened league play with a 1-1 tie against Sonoma Academy on Dec. 14, now have a different mindset going forward, Howard said. The win, over a very strong Montgomery team, shifts the outlook.

“Now we know what we are capable of,” Howard said. “We are going to take this win and carry it on the back of our shoulders and kind of play with a chip on our shoulder and know that if we can beat Monty, we can basically win league.”

But they’ll have to get through Cardinal Newman on Thursday and Windsor and Ukiah next week.

And then they’ll have to face Sonoma Academy and Montgomery again. Such is life in the NBL.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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