BARSTOW • The Barstow girls soccer team started slow this season, but made strides forward in every match it played. The Aztecs finished up well, with the group of players taking the field down the stretch looking much stronger than they did a few weeks earlier.
Taking part in postseason play, which seemed a real longshot at season's start, turned into a reality. And to make that reality that much better, the Aztecs drew a first-round CIF tourney home game.
That game was played Wednesday, with Barstow hosting Mayfield Senior School of Pasadena. The Aztecs scored the game's first goal, but the Cubs made a comeback, tying it up with less than five minutes left, forcing overtime. Then just a couple of minutes into OT, the visitors struck again, handing Barstow a 2-1 loss.
To say that the match was played under adverse conditions is an understatement. A steady rain fell through to the final minutes, it was bitter cold, and the gusty wind was unrelenting.
Of course, both teams had to put up with what Mother Nature was doling out, so neither side had an advantage. But putting up with the rain and wind was a big factor in weathering Wednesday's game.
"The grass wasn't soaking wet, but the elements definitely played a part," said Aztecs coach Brenda Banks. "I have nothing but pride in the girls for playing under such rough conditions. When it was over they were tired, they were cold, they were dirty. They had to be disappointed, but I was so proud of them.
"It was a classic battle. The teams were evenly-matched and they never stopped battling, despite the weather."
There were no goals in the fist half, though both keepers were kept pretty busy. Cubs goalie Alana Victor came out of the net several times to make saves, as did Barstow's Empriss Gardener. Gardener came up with the biggest save of the first 40 minutes; she made a catch, but the slick ball slipped from her grasp, so she was froced to jump on it and smother it to keep it away from two Cubs who were descending on it with scoring on their minds.
The Aztecs broke the scoreless tie about 15 minutes into the second. The home team showed nice teamwork, as Amy Johnson took control of the ball in the air, heading it to Autumn Hazlett, who passed to Clorinda Ochoa, who knocked it past Victor.
Given the nasty elements and the dearth of scoring, it looked like that goal might just stand up to be the margin of victory. It looked that way until there was only about three minutes left, when the Cubs' Kennedy Dinius was able to sneak past the Aztec defense and find the back of the net, tying it up.
"The back door was left open and they took advantage," said coach Banks.
The two Cubs goals were scored just a few minutes apart. Only about two minutes of overtime had elapsed when Rielle Dopke's hard shot lofted past Gardener's grasp, hit the crossbar and landed over the line.
It was a disappointing end of the season, but Banks had no regrets. She was very pleased with the progress the players made over the last couple of months, especially given all the setbacks they faced.
"This is a young team that had to deal with a lot of injuries. But today we showed the heart of a desert kid. Barstow doesn't get much credit, but we gave a great effort. If you lose, lose honorably, and we certainly did today," she said. "We made it to CIF's and made a solid showing. We didn't give them anything. No question, we made them earn it."
Banks was also impressed with the size of the crowd that showed up to sit in the rain and cold and watch their team. Seeing that made her happy for her team, particularly the players who won't be back next year.
"We got great support from the crowd," she said. "It was a good way for the seniors to go out. It made them realize that people care about them and the team and the sport. They had to be pleased by that.
"The conditions were bad, but the girls knew they were still soccer players and they had a job to do. I couldn't be prouder of them."