As the Leopards battle with the Regals in the first half, Ashley Vanga, midfielder for La Verne, attempts to get possession of the ball from Kelsey Dunn, midfielder for Cal Lutheran. The Leopards pulled ahead Wednesday to dethrone the Regals, 1-0. The Leopards play two away games against Claremont Mudd Scripps and Chapman, before returning Oct. 4 to host Pomona-Pitzer.
The women’s soccer team began their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule last weekend with two crucial victories over the Cal Lutheran Regals and the Occidental Tigers before losing last Wednesday’s road game against Redlands.
The Leopards, who went into their conference opener with a 1-2 nonconference record, were confident they were well prepared and capable of winning when it mattered most.
“We’re very excited,” head coach Wendy Zwissler said. “This is the first time in years that we’ve been in first place, and we’re working hard to stay there.”
In the game against Cal Lutheran, both teams implemented their defensive strategies to perfection, as neither team was able to score in the first half.
La Verne’s junior goalkeeper Tatianna Gutierrez made five saves in the first half, while the Leopard’s offense was only able to muster three shots.
Going into the half tied, players and coaches knew they needed to make adjustments to penetrate the Regals’ defense and get more shot opportunities.
“The players came off the field a little bit depressed,” Zwissler said. “I just wanted to keep their enthusiasm up, let them know things were OK and that if we kept working hard things would come our way.”
“It was a really physical game,” senior midfielder Lauren Vanga said. “A lot of girls were coming out with bumps and bruises.”
Both teams continued to play solid defense in the second half, as it took 38 minutes for the tie to be broken.
After all of the back and forth, the Leopards were finally able to get a breakaway goal from junior forward Falisha Ramirez.
Ramirez was assisted on the play by junior midfielder Shani Ibarra, who led her all the way down field.
La Verne won the game, 1-0.
“We had an amazing game,” junior midfielder Danielle Sumlin said. “We were excited to beat Cal Lu, especially since they’re the defending league champs.”
The Leopards traveled to Eagle Rock last Saturday to face SCIAC foe Occidental.
The game started out great for La Verne as they got on the scoreboard early, receiving a goal from junior midfielder Ashley Cendejas 30 minutes in.
Cendejas’ goal came on an assist from freshman midfielder Morgan Melanson.
The Leopards took a 1-0 lead into the half knowing that they would need more offensive production in order to ensure a victory.
“They couldn’t stop us in the first half,” Zwissler said. “All they could do was foul us.”
Zwissler’s message to the players worked as Ramirez and sophomore midfielder Ashley Vanga each scored a goal to help stretch La Verne’s lead to 3-0.
Occidental, down three goals with only seven minutes in the match, proved their resolve by scoring two late goals to make the score 3-2.
“We fell apart for a bit but got it back together,” Vanga said.
“This was the most stressful 10 minutes of my weekend,” Zwissler said.
Both goals came within three minutes of each other as the Tiger’s clawed their way back into the game, before finally falling to the Leopards 3-2.
“I got kind of nervous, but I’m glad we pulled it out,” Sumlin said.
La Verne traveled to Redlands last Wednesday and lost 4-1.
With the two victories, the Leopards jumped to the No.9 ranking in the Division III West Region. La Verne’s overall record is now 3-3 on the season and 2-1 in SCIAC play.
The Leopards look to improve their conference record tomorrow against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Claremont.
Richard Lugo can be reached at email@example.com.