Even now, almost a year later, it’s still a sensitive subject.
Memories of last season’s tragic ending are still an open wound for returning members of the La Quinta High School girls’ soccer team. As much as it hurts, players won’t let each other forget.
They still rehash how, in the Division V quarterfinals, the top-seeded Blackhawks defeated St. Margaret’s in a dramatic shootout to continue to a semifinals match at home.
But instead of advancing, CIF officials deemed the team had broken an ambiguous rule. Two steps from a championship, the season was over, and St. Margaret’s went on to win it all.
Two days later, head coach Bob Quattlebaum gathered his team together and broke the news. Shocked with eyes glazed over, some players broke down. Others consoled each other.
“It was the hardest when we were going through it last year,” junior forward Kailee Prescott said. “When we knew we couldn’t do anything about it, that was the worst. I did not want to go to school because everyone was saying how sorry they were for us.
“It was so sad. It was so heartbreaking.”
The Blackhawks finished the season 23-2-1, only losing once on the field. They had not lost in 18 consecutive matches until being disqualified for having their suspended leading scorer, Brielle Leon, just outside the stadium fence during the quarterfinal match.
Six starters graduated, including Leon, but five starters have returned. They’ve laid out this year’s approach to the younger players who were not on varsity a year ago.
With this season now in full swing, it serves as a daily motivation, considering just how close the squad was to a CIF title before its season was abruptly ended due to something out of its control.
The players that were around last season say they’ve grown closer after what they went through. And over the last year, the bitterness has turned to motivation.
“We’re still not over it,” senior goalkeeper Arianna Rodriguez said. “We use it as motivation now.”
More than anything, Quattlebaum said he worried what the team’s mindset would be this season. Would they use last year as an excuse or would they come back with a vengeance and with something to prove?
“We talk about that,” Quattlebaum said. “I use it as a motivation tool. This year, they’re going to have to beat us on the field. They’ve all gotten behind that.”
This year, the Blackhawks are 11-4-2, though all four losses came in an early season tournament without the full squad intact. Prescott has been out for much of the season, and three freshman are still learning their way.
In terms of size, La Quinta doesn’t have as much as last year, in part because of the youth on the roster. And defensively, it should take some time to adequately replace a bevy of senior starters.
Still, on talent, players believe there’s just as much on the field this year — the junior varsity team went 25-0 last year. It’s just inexperienced, collectively, and will take some time to build team chemistry.
“We can always recreate what we had,” Aileen Galicia said. “The chemistry is getting there, it’s just going to take some time. We think we’ll be ready by the playoffs.”
If La Quinta can recreate what it had last year, and combine that with the reoccurring memories of last season, the Blackhawks will again be a dangerous team in the postseason.
Players have dedicated this season to last year’s seniors, who they believe had a CIF title taken away from them.
It’s still a part of their conversations, their text messages. It’s what is fueling them.
Players say they want to prove to themselves more than anybody that last year’s squad was not a one-hit wonder.
They want to prove through this year’s group that last year’s team was worthy of more than what it got.
“We have a huge chip on our shoulder,” Prescott said. “We have so much to prove. We have to take it personally.”