It was a game none of the players will soon forget. The Presentation High School Panthers of San Jose were invited to play at Avaya Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. In turn, the Panthers invited one of their annual preseason opponents, the Santa Clara Bruins to be their foes for a Saturday afternoon match inside the state-of-the-art stadium.
“At first it was really overwhelming,” admitted Bruins freshman Nicole Saulus on playing at Avaya. “But the fact that we were able to get this opportunity was really cool.”
“Really exciting to play here,” added junior Nicole Nunes. “It’s a bigger field, wider, much more professional surface obviously.”
The two Nicoles, whom Bruins Head Coach Brad Comstock refers to as N1 and N2, came off the bench midway through the first half and helped spark Santa Clara’s attack. Through the first 20 minutes the Panthers had dominated ball possession and accounted for the only dangerous scoring chances.
With the game still scoreless and the Bruins finally gaining some momentum, the Panthers would end up scoring off a corner kick in the 37th minute. The goal could have sapped Santa Clara’s energy, but the Bruins managed to keep up the pressure and Saulus would tie the game up just two minutes later. The freshman put a bad-angle volley shot perfectly inside the far post for an amazing goal, the first of her high school career.
“We had Samantha [Reyes] who can throw really far and I knew from previous throw ins that the same defender was going to try and head it away so I had that in the back of my mind,” recalled Saulus on the sequence leading up to her goal. “When Samantha threw it in, the girl headed it and I moved to an angle where I would have an open shot. The ball came to me and I wasn’t exactly thinking, I just stuck out my left foot, shot it and it went in the back of the net. I was still in shock and Frida [Ramirez] and Nicole were like ‘you just scored!’ and I was like ‘I just scored!’”
For the final fifteen minutes of the first half, Saulus, Nunes and Ramirez were working extremely well together, creating some beautiful ball movement.
“Frida was pushing up higher in the midfield which helped since I’m playing up top, it’s nice to have someone like that who can come and support me,” noted Nunes. “We started attacking more at that point and then with Nicole coming in, we were able to connect through the middle to the outside as well.”
With the tying goal from Saulus and significantly better ball possession going into halftime, things looked promising for the Bruins after 40 minutes. Somewhat curiously though, that trio of Nunes, Saulus and Ramirez all started the second half on the bench. While they sat out is when the Panthers scored their next two goals to go up 3-1.
“I think I just wanted to get everyone playing time in this stadium,” remarked coach Comstock. “I was OK going with either one of our alignments because I really thought [the Panthers] were the better team today, regardless. This game is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for the seniors it will never happen again. Who knows if it will ever happen for the school again.”
The loss drops Santa Clara’s preseason record to 3-1-1. They will now have a two week break before one final non-league game on Dec. 30. League season begins on Jan. 3 when they host Los Gatos.