Fourth straight semifinal a draining finish for Eagles



Following a valiant playoff run, Pleasanton’s women’s soccer team, including in the front row (from left), Hailey Koti, Mia Hernandez, Kenley Everett, Delanee Olivarri, Jenna Westfall, Sofia Rivera, Zariah Garcia and Carly Esquivel. In back are Kendall Espey, Kate McNeill, Madelyn Bird, Zoei Diaz, Sydney Merecka, Renata Osorio, Lacey Stevens, Skylar Mitchell and Kaitlyn Garcia. TOM FIRME | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Following a valiant playoff run, Pleasanton’s women’s soccer team, including in the front row (from left), Hailey Koti, Mia Hernandez, Kenley Everett, Delanee Olivarri, Jenna Westfall, Sofia Rivera, Zariah Garcia and Carly Esquivel. In back are Kendall Espey, Kate McNeill, Madelyn Bird, Zoei Diaz, Sydney Merecka, Renata Osorio, Lacey Stevens, Skylar Mitchell and Kaitlyn Garcia. TOM FIRME | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Pleasanton’s women’s soccer team gained advantages during the first half of a bitter, physical battle with Wimberley in the regional semifinal on April 12 at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, but for a third time this season, the Eagles and Texans went to a shootout, with Wimberley outscoring Pleasanton 3-0 after a 2-2 deadlock through two overtimes.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls. They didn’t give up for a second. Penalty kicks are a sad way to end when both teams were fighting so hard,” said Pleasanton head coach Brant Bird.

Kenley Everett described the team’s fourth straight regional semifinal as their “longest, most draining game of the season.”

Pleasanton struck first as Madelyn Bird outpaced a Texans defender and made a shot from outside the box 6:46 into the game. Wimberley tied it with a goal 12 minutes later.

With 2:47 left in the half, Delanee Olivarri launched a free kick from near the sideline into the net to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead entering halftime. Wimberley’s Holly Harwood evened the score with a goal nine minutes into the second half.

“The second goal was just a communication error,” coach Bird said.

Kate McNeil made a few plays to cut off attacks by Wimberley, including a deflection with 15:04 left in the second half. Eagles goalie Sydney Merecka made a tough save with 9:31 left.

Zoei Diaz had two solid looks at the goal in the final minutes of the second half, with one shot going over the net and one that was saved with 4:45 left.

The two teams had equal possession time, but the Texans put more shots on goal in regulation. Pleasanton had two corner kicks in the first overtime and matched Wimberley on shots in the second overtime.

“It became a more mental game in overtime,” Madelyn Bird said.

Merecka made a save off a Wimberley corner kick with 3:20 left. Olivarri’s shot with 10 seconds left was blocked. After a total of 20 minutes of overtime, the Eagles prepared for penalty kicks, a trial they had endured against Wimberley twice early this year.

“By the 100th minute, everyone is past the point of exhaustion mentally and physically, and that leaves for a lot of tears,” said Kate McNeill, who was the shootout goalie.

The Texans made three straight attempts in the shootout. For Pleasanton, Diaz sent one off a side post, Olivarri’s shot went wide right and Sofia Rivera’s was blocked. That sealed the result.

“Because we practiced it so much, we expected to perform better, and when we didn’t it was a hit,” said Diaz.

The lone senior, Jenna Westfall, would have kicked last if the shootout were to last all five shots.

“It was a very still moment when I realized that they had won,” she said.

The end of the bus ride from the stadium to the hotel afterwards reminded them it was their last run with Westfall, who was one of the co-captains.

“We have a tradition of singing the national anthem right before we get to where the bus is parked, so as we were singing that, it hit everyone that it was the last time we were going to sing it with Jenna and for the juniors, the last time for the junior year, and the sophomores the same and freshmen,” McNeill said.

Pleasanton finished the season 20-6-4, with 12 straight wins stretching from the late non-district section, through an unbeaten district run and the regional quarterfinal. The Eagles allowed 32 regulation goals in 30 games and had 15 shutouts. Next year, the Eagles will return many of their key players, including two of the three co-captains, McNeill and Madelyn Bird, who led the team with 27 goals, as well as Delanee Olivarri, the leader in assists with 21.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *