Two teams stepped onto the field at Palm Springs High School on Friday night, each looking to move forward from what has, at times, been a tumultuous year.
Cathedral City finished second to La Quinta in the Desert Valley League a year ago, yet fell to fourth this year with a talented but youthful roster. Palm Springs finished just behind, at fifth, as injuries ravaged what may have been its most talented team in years.
But after three consecutive losses, the Lions emerged victorious, 2-0, in the regular season finale for both teams, on Senior Night at Ralph Watt Stadium. The win should be enough for Cathedral City to sneak into the Division V CIF-Southern Section playoffs, which start next week.
Sophomore Alinah Espinoza struck first for the Lions on a breakaway goal in the seventh minute. Later in the first half, goalkeeper Gisel Cancino made a remarkable diving save to preserve the lead into halftime.
Cathedral City (13-10-1, 6-5-1 DVL) controlled much of the tempo, but the Indians were never really out of it until freshman Davonna Shahar put the game away late in the second half.
The Lions started off the season really well, then head coach Jorge Polanco said, “we struggled a little bit with our inexperience, a little bit of mental fatigue, stuff like that” once league play began. Against La Quinta and Xavier Prep, they had more shots and controlled the tempo for much of the match, but had a single breakdown that cost them the game.
The Lions are hoping to regain some momentum in time for the postseason.
“Our season didn’t go how we expected,” senior captain Cynthia Hernandez. “So we’re hoping we’ve learned from our mistakes, and we got it all out of our system for the playoffs.”
For Palm Springs (7-12, 3-8-1), this was a rebuilding year, head coach Deb Cormier said. The Indians lost 14 seniors from last year’s squad, including numerous starters. There were a lot of freshmen and sophomore’s this year, and some unfortunate injuries that hindered much of a chance for a postseason run.
“My seniors were amazing,” Cormier said. “They were amazing. They were great teachers. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Varsity soccer in the DVL is probably the toughest sport here; there are always seven teams competing, and our injuries really hurt. But I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
For Cathedral City, there’s still potential for more, and Polanco cautioned against counting his team out.
“This is better than last year’s squad,” Polanco said. “And they’re hungrier; they play with a little edge. Last year, we were more East-West, pretty soccer. This year, we want to go East-West-North and go score. We have some pretty strong players, and we’re better in a tournament setting.”
Player of the game
Alinah Espinoza: Sure, Espinoza scored the game-clinching goal, but she also handled the ball extremely well and initiated much of the attack for the Lions. She only lost one dribble and set teammates up for open looks at the goal.
She is third on the team with nine goals this season, and is one of five with at least eight.
Cathedral City should have a first round playoff game early next week. As a potential wild card, the Lions could play as early as Tuesday on the road, where they have won eight games this season. Postseason pairings will be announced Monday.