Galena High School couldn't have picked a better time to get its first-ever girls' soccer win against Carson.
The Grizzlies used speed, precision and good old fashioned defense to defeat the Senators 1-0 on Saturday morning at Carson High School, claiming the Northern 4A Zone championship for the first time. It was the first time Galena had ever beaten Carson, which was the defending zone champion coming into the match.
"I don't think anyone really thought about us winning it," said Galena's Bianca Sciotto, who scored the game's lone goal 15:27 into the first half. "We knew this would be a tough game. This team has mental toughness and a desire to win."
Certainly Galena did not have an easy road to the title. The Grizzlies had to beat a tough Reno squad in the first round, then came back Thursday and beat Douglas, which had lost only one game up to that point.
On Saturday, the Grizzlies used the same formula that has made them successful all season - they made the most of their opportunities and got an outstanding performance from junior goalkeeper Jayleen Chen.
"It feels like this zone tournament has been one big game," Galena coach Tom Canino said. "All week I've thought about nothing but soccer. Every team we've faced has been tough, and Carson gave us a great game today."
For Carson, it was a disappointing finish for seven seniors seeking a repeat of last year's zone championship. The Senators looked strong coming in after a pair of 4-0 victories in the first two rounds, but on Saturday they looked unable to cope with Galena's team speed.
The Senators kept fighting despite the early goal, though, something coach Mike Popp seemed pleased about.
"I still think we played a good game," he said. "I'm proud of the effort the girls put out there today. It's a tough way to lose, but the seniors went out strong."
Galena was the offensive team from the get-go, pressuring Senator goalkeeper Pam Williams with three early shots. The fast pace seemed to pull Carson out of its slower tempo, and the Senators responded with a few shots of their own that went right at Chen.
Sciotto's goal came after Williams ventured out of the box about 10 feet to defend a shot on goal. Williams' save attempt glanced behind her and to her left, where Sciotto was waiting to redirect the ball into the net.
"I was hanging back a little bit, and then it came right to me and I put it in," Sciotto said.
Carson turned up the heat from there, getting three good opportunities to score before the half expired.
Perhaps the Senators' best chance to score came six minutes after Sciotto's goal. Emily Maier took a pass down the middle and streaked past her defender, leaving her wide open on the left side of the box. She sent a screamer to the right side that would have gone in had it not met the hands of a diving Chen.
"That was a tough play for us," Popp said. "It was a good kick, but their goalie did a great job saving that shot."
Chen called it instinct.
"There's no way to really play that shot," she said. "I just reacted to it. I stayed on my feet and kept my balance, then just dove for it."
Ali Bannister later had a chance right in front of the goal on the left side, but her kick was stuffed by Chen, who got in front of her at the last second.
Carson never put any serious pressure on Galena in the second half. Tiffani Thomas was outstanding on defense, and Patricia Garrick turned in a strong game as well for Galena.
Galena sweeper Karla Orellana never crossed midfield in the second half, but the Grizzlies still created several opportunities to score by using the speed of Annie Baxter and Christine Fujita.
Several lob passes were picked up by a streaking Grizzly headed toward the goal, but the Senators did a good job neutralizing the threat.
The difference in the game was probably Galena's speed. The Grizzlies beat the Senators to passes and goal kicks all game long. The interceptions kept Carson from finding any kind of rhythm on offense.
"It was hard to adjust to their speed," Popp said. "They always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.'
Misti Kimball, Claire Jaquette and Kali Richey all helped Carson keep the game close on defense and helped create opportunities for the offense.
Galena (14-4-2) finishes its season as the zone champion, as there is no state title game for girls' soccer. Carson ends its season with a 15-4-2 record.