After losing a key senior to injury near the end of the first half, Fountain Hills responded by seizing the lead and never letting it go Friday night as it defeated Chandler Seton Catholic 2-0, in the Division III girls soccer championship at Gilbert Campo Verde.
From the opening kick, Fountain Hills (20-3-1) looked the faster, more energized team in their matchup against Seton Catholic (16-3-1), as the first scoring chance of the game went to Fountain Hills in the third minute.
Seton was awarded its first chance five minutes later, but senior midfielder Randi Ward kicked the ball off the football goalposts, giving the ball right back to Fountain Hills.
The game would remain scoreless for the majority of the first half, with both teams playing exceptional defense. Seton’s would be tested more often, as it had to defend against three major scoring chances from Fountain Hills.
Seton, however, did not a shot on goal until the 30th minute when senior forward Kelsey Moore almost knocked a free kick in from 40 yards out.
Fountain Hills’ goaltender, senior Kahri Smith, was able to tip the bar over the crossbar and then grab Seton’s ensuing corner kick out of the air to preserve the scoreless tie.
It was in the 39th minute that the game changed, as Fountain Hills’ senior sweeper Jess Stricker, who is also one of the team’s captains, was knocked out of the game with a concussion after going up for a ball on a free kick.
“That’s kind of how it’s been all season, we get a break, we get a quick pep talk,” Fountain Hills coach Alison Mabery said. “They’re really good at motivating themselves, and we always know once we get that stopped, that we have that opportunity to really just come out and we knew we had to get a first goal in the first half. We had to.”
Get that first goal it did, as 59 seconds later, sophomore midfielder Leah Carillo took the ball down the middle of the field and scored with 43.9 seconds on the clock to give Fountain Hills a 1-0 lead, which it took to halftime.
“(Carillo’s goal) was huge for us,” Mabery said. “I felt like we were doing a great job as a team, but we just needed just something to boost us up going into halftime, and that’s exactly what we needed. We had a lot of chances, and we just really wanted to get one in.”
Fountain Hills would come out at the beginning of the second half and knock another shot into the back of the net. This time it was freshman forward Erika Yost who was responsible for giving Fountain Hills a 2-0 lead.
Seton would have a few more chances in the second half, but Fountain Hills’ suffocating defense denied it every time.
“Defense is what we focus on as a team,” Mabery said. “If we can do that, we shut them out, I have full confidence with everybody scoring goals in the back of the net.
“That’s our main focus. If we don’t let them score, we’re in the game. And so that’s been our focus all season.”
The win gave Fountain Hills its first girls soccer championship.
“(Winning the state championship) feels fantastic,” Mabery said. “The girls worked so hard. This is something that starting last year we’ve been working towards and building on, and I think our chemistry really gives the excitement and how thrilled we are to just have this opportunity.”