While the soccer teams from the top three high school conferences await their turn to play for a state title the next couple of days, the 3A conference has already crowned its boys and girls champions.
And, what’s become something of a rarity these days, there were no repeat titles. Just feel-good stories about players banding together and over-achieving to become the first teams in their school’s history to win a state title in the sport, to bring home the hardware that so many teams before them were unable to secure.
The Veritas Prep boys’ team, seeded No. 5 in the tournament, had to beat No. 1 seed Coronado High School in the semifinals to advance to the championship match against Yuma Catholic.
Eighth-seeded Sahuarita HS also pulled off a major upset of a top seed in the girls’ competition, beating No. 1 American Leadership Acadamy-Queen Creek in the quarterfinals, and then rolling over Trivium Prep, 4-0, in the semis to clear the path to a finals match-up with Gilbert Christian HS.
But the Lady Knights, who had outscored their first three opponents, 9-2, were ready for the Tucson school. Gilbert Christian only had four shots on goal throughout the match, but it took just one to clinch the win.
Landyn Lovelady took an assist from sophomore midfielder Emily Collard just minutes after the second half, using a corner kick rebound to score the only goal of the game in the 1-0 victory at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.
Gilbert Christian, which started its girls’ soccer program just five years ago, finished the season 18-1, posting its best record ever, and closed with a 16-game win streak.
Goalkeeper Emma Borgman, who Gilbert Christian coach Jay Feely called “a beast” for her outstanding performance in the net, led the defensive effort with nine saves.
The boys’ game featured an unusual match-up of lower seeds, No. 8 seed Veritas Prep and No. 14 Yuma Catholic, in the championship match. Like the girls’ game, this one reached halftime without a score.
But Veritas came out firing after halftime, scoring at the 37:44 mark of the second half when forward Jason Nunez, who found himself in a crowd in front of the goal, punched in the first of his two goals. “I just watched the ball,” he explained after the game. “It came to my chest, so I used my shoulder to just bump it in.”
Nunez scored again with 4:22 left to play, providing an insurance goal his team never needed as the Falcons held on for the 2-0 victory that made school history.