Sometimes it takes just one to become No. 1.
Phoenix Xavier Prep won the Division I girls state soccer championship at Campo Verde in Gilbert Saturday 1-0 over Phoenix Desert Vista after junior defender Kellie Peay headed it in off a corner kick by freshman Alexis Allard with 9:42 left on the clock.
The first half was scoreless – and without a whole lot of chances for either team – and while Xavier got things moving in the second half with an onslaught of opportunities at the Desert Vista end, Peay’s opportunistic moment proved to be the championship-winning point when all was said and done.
“The goal was fantastic,” Xavier coach Barb Chura said. “We spend so much time on set pieces because it’s often set pieces in these higher-level games that win games and lose games. It just so happened that we were on the winning end of it.”
Unfortunately for Desert Vista, coming up on the losing side of that one play ultimately meant finishing the season as the Division I runner-up.
“It’s hard to get beat on a set piece,” Desert Vista coach Marvin Hypolite said. “It’s one goal. But we stuck in there and we gave it all we’ve got.”
Chura said that while Peay’s prowess is obviously on the defensive end, plays like the corner kick are “her forte.”
“Kellie Peay is the best defender in the state,” Chura said. “I think it’s so fitting for her too because defenders don’t always get the goals. They’re always stopping them from going in.”
Chura noted that her team had the patience and persistence to pull through, despite having more than a half-dozen legitimate scoring chances in a seven-minute span midway through the second half without converting.
After scoring both of her team’s goals in Wednesday semifinal matchup, senior forward Michaela Dooley came up scoreless Saturday but still acted as a sparkplug for Xavier in the second half. Dooley took multiple shots on goal and spun her way to a breakaway that, despite being turned away by Desert Vista goalkeeper Alexa Ryder, proved Xavier had the momentum.
“Michaela had a ton of chances,” Chura said. “You could see how dominant she is and how strong she is. She puts anybody under pressure.”
Chura said her Xavier team had been plagued with injury for much of the season so it wasn’t a surprise that with 11 seconds left in the game the team’s ultimate championship hero, Peay, had to be helped off the field.
With Desert Vista in desperation mode to try to tie the game, Peay got tangled up with an attacking player and ended up with a deep, bleeding gash on her right temple.
“Yeah, it is a (badge of honor). I got this when we won state,” Peay said, pointing to her injury with a smile.
“That’s the story of the season,” Chura said.
“At one point, we had eight starters out. We’ve been through everything — sickness, injuries, transfers — throughout the whole year and it started way back in December. We wound up elevating, I feel like, half the jayvee team. But our program is so good and so strong from the freshmen team to our varsity team.”
Chura added that she changed her team’s approach at halftime to try and eliminate the passing game of Desert Vista.
“They had a lot of the passing in the first half,” she said. “We had to get our game back and start connecting passes and going wide – which is what we do best. When you go wide, it opens up of the middle. I think we started to turn the table a little bit in the second half.”
In his second year as a head coach at the Ahwatukee-area school, Desert Vista’s Hypolite was proud of his team’s defensive effort which kept the game scoreless for the first 70 minutes but added the his team’s transition game could have been better.
“I just wish our second chance passes would have been a little bit more productive,” he said. “I can’t take anything away from this team. They’re a good team. We’ve worked tremendously hard this season.”