Almost 12 months have passed since the La Quinta High School girls’ soccer team was disqualified from the quarterfinals of the Division 5 playoffs. The Blackhawks were the top overall seed and had not lost in 18 consecutive games. Still, their season did not end with the CIF Southern Section title many thought they deserved.
Here we are, a year later, and La Quinta has a chance to remedy last season’s fateful ending.
The Blackhawks were again awarded the top overall seed in the Division 5 playoffs when the CIF-SS office released the pairings at 1 p.m. Monday. La Quinta will start what could be another deep run with a home game on Thursday against an opponent to be determined.
But while this year’s squad may be just as impressive and talented as last year’s, players and coaches insist this is not the same group that took the field in the 2014 postseason. La Quinta (20-5-1) lost a host of seniors, including the program’s all-time leading scorer, Brielle Leon, and replaced them with a handful of freshmen and sophomores playing in their first postseason.
“The girls used (last) year as motivation, but it’s a completely different team than last year,” La Quinta head coach Bob Quattlebaum said. “Even though there were a lot of players coming back, and there were a lot of girls that watched from the sidelines and from the bench, personality-wise this is a different team.”
La Quinta began the season without all of its starters, and with a number of young players playing varsity soccer for the first time. The Blackhawks lost three of their first six games and four of their first 10.
Eventually, team chemistry clicked and it all came together. La Quinta enters the playoffs having won 12 consecutive games and 15 of their last 16. Senior forward Aileen Galicia is tied for third in the division with 21 goals, and goalkeeper Arianna Rodriguez is tied for second in goals-against average among players with at least 900 minutes in-goal.
“Because of what happened last year, the girls are really (close),” Quattlebaum said. “But they needed their own identity. Everybody would remind them of what happened last year, and I think it kind of got to them.
“They don’t want to just credit what happened last year, but at the same time each team needs their own identity, and this is a completely different personality than last year’s squad. I would say this squad is much looser. …There’s nothing wrong with that, just a different team.”
Joining La Quinta in the Division 5 pairings will be Palm Desert, which plays Thursday at home against California; Xavier Prep, which plays Thursday at Estancia; and Cathedral City, which will play in a wild-card game Tuesday at Covina.
In the Division 7 bracket, Shadow Hills will play at home Thursday against the winner of St. Mary’s Academy and Providence; Rancho Mirage will play in a wild card game Tuesday at Thacher, and Desert Hot Springs will play at Ramona Convent in another wild-card pairing Tuesday.
On the boys’ side, in Division 2, La Quinta will play at home on Friday against Trabuco Hills, Palm Springs will play at California and Coachella Valley will play at Cabrillo (Long Beach). Palm Desert will play in a wild-card match Wednesday at Summit.
In Division 6, Desert Mirage will play at home on Friday vs. Nogales, Rancho Mirage will play at Arrowhead Christian, and Shadow Hills will play at Flintridge Prep.
In Division 7 on Friday, Desert Christian Academy will play at home vs. Hamilton, Desert Chapel will play at La Sierra Academy, and West Shores will host the winner of a wild-card game.
Seventeen teams from the Coachella Valley will be in action this week, but perhaps no team will be watch with as much intrigue as the La Quinta girls. After losing so much last season, the Blackhawks have bounced back with a vengeance this year.
Can they sustain it, and avenge the cruel ending to last season?
“We’ve really started playing together as a team, and we’re motivated,” said Galicia, a senior captain. “Someone’s going to have to beat us on the field this year.”
CIF PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
(Note: All soccer games begin at 3 p.m., all water polo games begin at 5 p.m. and all basketball games begin at 7 p.m. unless both schools agree to a change)
•Xavier Prep at Chino
•Cathedral City at Covina
•Desert Hot Springs at Ramona Convent
•Rancho Mirage at Thacher
•Fullerton at Palm Springs
•El Monte at Palm Desert
•Indio at La Sierra
•Cathedral City at Don Lugo
•Bishop Amat at Shadow Hills
•Banning at Rancho Mirage
•Faith Baptist at Desert Christian Academy
•St. Monica Acad. at West Shores
•Pacifica or Citrus Valley at Palm Desert
•La Quinta at Los Altos
•Palm Desert at Summit
•Don Lugo at Indio
•Sultana at Palm Springs
•Northwood at Desert Hot Springs
•Shadow Hills at La Canada
•Cathedral City at Burroughs
•Desert Christian Academy at Lucerne Valley
•Palm Valley at Baker Valley
•Citrus Hill OR Western Christian at La Quinta
•Xavier Prep at Estancia (5 p.m.)
•California at Palm Desert
•Providence OR St. Mary’s at Shadow Hills
•Santiago at La Quinta
•Trabuco Hills at La Quinta
•Palm Springs at California
•Coachella Valley at Cabrillo
•Rancho Mirage at Arrowhead Christian
•Shadow Hills at Flintridge Prep
•Nogales at Desert Mirage
•Hamilton at Desert Christian Academy
•Desert Chapel at La Sierra Academy
•Excelsior OR Mojave at West Shores
•La Quinta at Warren