All season, the calling card for the Tucson Salpointe Catholic girls soccer team has been its defense. It was a project coach Becky Freeman began working on immediately following the loss to Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep in the 2016 state championship and one that she’s continued to tinker with throughout this season’s playoffs.
As it turns out, Freeman’s offense isn’t bad either.
Saturday, it was the offense that flexed its muscles as No. 4 Salpointe beat No. 2 Phoenix Thunderbird, 4-0, for the 4A Conference state title at Gilbert Williams Field.
“We definitely kind of exploded up front,” Freeman said. “We were able to combine, score goals and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Salpointe (19-3-2) dominated from the start, attacking early and often. However, Thunderbird goalkeeper Kiara Pasillas – in for typical starter Kayla King, who dislocated her shoulder in pregame warmups – didn’t waver as the game remained scoreless through the first 10 minutes.
- Win $1,000 for your high school in our Fan Experience contest
- Nominate: All-Arizona teams, Athletes of the Week, Academic All-Stars
- Larry Fitzgerald to headline azcentral.com Sports Awards
“The game did not start the way we wanted it to start,” Thunderbird coach Angelo Iozzo said. “Our starting (goalkeeper) dislocated her shoulder, and it pulled off one of our starting players into goal. But we all felt confident with Kiara in goal because she was our starting keeper the last year.”
Kate Connelly finally got Salpointe’s lone goal of the first half with 23:07 left in the half, thanks in large part to a nice feed from Jiaying Brust and Kalista Kakou.
“When you get that early goal, it takes the pressure off a little bit and sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Freeman said. “We were hoping to get an early goal. We were able to in the first half, but Thunderbird is a great team and they fought back.”
Salpointe continued to roll offensively in the second half. Kakou found Catalina Alvarado with a nice cross 5 minutes into the second half for a key insurance goal. Less than a minute later, Alvarado almost got a second goal, but Pasillas made a big save to keep it a two-goal game.
“I knew that when Kalista got me that ball, I had to finish it,” Alvarado said. “I just felt like I really wanted it, and I had to score to get us going.”
Following a goal by Paloma Teran with 20:14 left, Kakou finally got on the board herself – sealing the win and making sure that one title came back to Tucson after the boys soccer team lost to Scottsdale Coronado in penalty kicks earlier in the day.
“It’s very sweet,” Freeman said. “It’s a little surreal, but we feel blessed to be back in the state game. These girls have worked so hard to be in this position and now win it all this year.”
For Thunderbird (16-2-2), Iozzo hopes Saturday’s loss and the experience of playing in the playoffs for the first time in a decade will help bring the program to new heights next season.
“This is definitely something we can build on,” Iozzo said. “We have six underclassmen that started on this team. The core of our team is coming back, so we’re excited.”