Corona del Sol’s girls soccer team made headlines in this season’s 5A-I state tournament, coming in as the No. 15 seed and making it all the way to the finals before succumbing to No. 1 Xavier.
With their Cinderella-like story of ascending through higher-ranked teams, the Lady Aztecs now have the distinction of being the lowest seeded team to play in a big-school state girls soccer final.
Corona was also unique in that both soccer teams played in the championship match this season. One, the boys team, was predicted early to win this season but nearly everyone, except maybe the coaches and players, was surprised when the girls team made it into the championship game.
The Lady Aztecs got on a roll in the first round defeating No. 2 Gilbert and never looked back, defeating No. 10 Mesquite and then No. 5 Desert Vista to face off against No. 1 Xavier Prep, the defending state 5A-I state champs, Feb. 13, at Gilbert’s Campo Verde High School.
It would have been easy for the Lady Aztecs to pack it in this season, with only nine seniors out of 27 players on the roster and losing 10 games in the regular season—let alone four of the last five games leading up to the state tournament. But teams that have a winning tradition, which the Corona program definitely has, do not give up without a fight.
Seniors Hailey Hayes, Melissa Pestalozzi, Julie Vandeberg, Jessica Johnson, Tori Papp, Katie Huch, Mackenzie Koenig, Jordan Martin and Heather Crothers most likely remember when Corona won state championships in 2006 and 2007.
They also are familiar first hand with Corona’s dominance in the Central region, where the Lady Aztecs were awarded the region championship banner every year since 1995 except for two years, 1998 and 2003.
When you have a tradition to uphold, you may not always be the most highly skilled or the most experienced team, but you definitely work hard to keep that winning tradition alive. That’s exactly what this year’s Lady Aztecs did in their quest to make it into the championship game.
Corona upset No. 2 Gilbert High School in the opening round 2-1, on Feb. 3, and then defeated No. 10 Mesquite 1-0, in a quarterfinal matchup Feb. 6.
In a matchup with longtime Aztec assistant and brother Scott, Corona coach Matt Smith got several big saves from goalie Hayes and a deflected goal from sophomore Mackenzie Bader in the second half to defeat Mesquite and make it to the semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Corona’s more experienced backline of Sammie Weber, Vandeberg and Johnson had played solid all season and they didn’t let their teammates down in the semifinals against longtime Central region rival Desert Vista.
It took more than 100 scoreless minutes, including a double overtime, for the Lady Aztecs to defeat No. 6 Desert Vista in the semifinals. The game came down to a penalty kick shootout with Corona winning 6-5 on a shootout goal by Heather Crothers and a rejection by Corona goalie Hayes on the Thunder’s sixth shot of the shootout.
It was Hayes’ school-record 37th career shutout as she finished the game against the Thunder with 10 saves overall that helped put the Lady Aztecs in the championship game.
Although the team (14-10-1) fought hard to keep their championship run alive, they couldn’t hold off the defending state champions Xavier Prep (17-5), who won back-to-back state titles defeating Corona 2-0 on Feb. 13. It was the first time a 5A-I team had won back-to-back titles since Corona did it in 2006 and 2007.
The Lady Aztecs had a great season and kept their winning tradition alive.
They will miss goalie Hayes and the other seniors but will be able to count on the experience gained this season from some of their younger players like Bader, Nicolette Newcomb, Brooke Ridley, Madeleine Caldwell and Zoe Martinez to help next year’s seniors Weber, Emily Tucker, Sarah Williams, Lisa Morrison, Micah Jones and goalie Colby Bounds keep up the winning tradition that Corona has come to expect from their girls soccer program.