La Quinta High School began the 2015-16 season in November, ranked No. 3 in the California Interscholastic Federation Division 5 poll. By the end of 2015, the Lady Blackhawks had won just three of 14 games.
La Quinta began the season with a pair of shutout wins in the Beaumont Winter Classic. Those wins, however, were followed by three ties, then three losses, followed by three more ties and a pair of losses, with the lone win during that stretch coming on Dec. 19 against Diamond Bar in the Best of the West Winter Classic.
The 3-5-6 record solidified the worst start in the last decade for the powerhouse program, and brought skepticism to the pre-season CIF ranking.
But after a nine-day break to finish out 2015 and two decisive DVL wins to start the new year, including a 4-0 victory at Palm Springs on Tuesday, the tide appears to have turned for La Quinta—The Blackhawks’ first game since trouncing a 12-win Coachella Valley squad by six goals last Thursday.
The pre-season rankings are largely based off of what the team did the previous year, combined with the players returning. La Quinta did lose a number of key players, including Desert Valley League Player of the Year Aileen Galicia, all-CIF defender Melita Pena and standout goalkeeper Arianna Rodriguez, but returned a host of players from a young squad that reached the CIF semifinals.
Winning the Beaumont Tournament to start the year appeared to confirm that ranking. But the Blackhawks scored in just one of the next four games, and jump-started a downward spiral, which included a loss to Cathedral City on Dec. 15 that ended a 36-game unbeaten streak in the DVL.
“The wheels just fell off,” Quattlebaum said. “The girls just didn’t play well. They were not playing well as a unit; we weren’t talking to each other and just making silly mistakes. I think our inexperience showed.”
Contributing to that was the fact that La Quinta did not participate in a summer season in 2015. Like many teams throughout Southern California and beyond, a large number of varsity players also participate in a club season or two during the high school offseason. Then they connect with their varsity teammates and coaches for the summer to develop some sort of chemistry, which can be beneficial once the season begins in November.
Without a chance to do that, the first part of the season can be difficult getting everyone on the same page.
“It’s taken us a while to get players in the right spots,” Quattlebaum said. “I think now we’re starting to get there.”
Adding to that was the tough schedule La Quinta played to get the squad ready for League. The Blackhawks tied a ranked Newport Harbor team, lost to Temescal Canyon, the defending Division 2 champs, and allowed four goals to University High from Irvine in the North Orange County Classic.
“Really what got their confidence back up was that game against Coachella,” Quattlebaum said. Coachella came in 12-1-1 and on fire, and I think beating them 6-0, I think the girls got their confidence back. You could tell during winter break, they didn’t have confidence in themselves anymore.”
Against Palm Springs, junior forward Jianna Guerrero recorded a hat trick, and sophomore forward Tatiana Woodworth and junior striker Reanna Rivera also found the back of the net in an all-out assault at Ralph Watt Stadium in Palm Springs.
The Indians, coming off a 7-13-3 season under Deb Cormier, moved to 0-9 in head coach Jessica Bush’s debut season.
“It is rebuilding, but we are starting to get comfortable with each other, we’re starting to learn how to play together,” Bush said.
Against the Indians, Quattlebaum said he finally saw his team dominate, and said that his players are starting to hit those little passes that lead to scores. And they’re communicating a lot better.
Whether La Quinta has in fact turned a corner will be tested very soon. The Blackhawks play at Xavier Prep on Thursday, then at home against a Palm Desert squad that had won nine in a row. Two days after that, they play Cathedral City again in the rematch.
“We’ll see if we can put it together for more than two games in a row,” Quattlebaum said. “The girls are playing with confidence now, and when we play with confidence, I don’t think there’s a team that can beat us.”