The Santa Clara Bruins are CCS champions in girls soccer for the first time in school history, finishing their season with a drama filled final two games.
In the semifinals Santa Clara beat the Pioneer Mustangs featuring Naomi Girma, a starter on the U-17 USWNT. Girma played most of the game against the Bruins (who won 5-4 on penalty kicks after OT ended 1-1), but started and finished the game on the bench. Despite Girma’s presence, the Bruins dominated possession. In particular, junior midfielder Maddie Ambelang was terrific.
“[Maddie] is one of the reasons that we dominated so much,” commented Bruins Head Coach Brad Comstock after the Pioneer game. “She controlled the hell out of that midfield and let us attack.”
“[Girma] is one of my [club] teammates actually,” chimed senior goalkeeper Samantha Coelho. “I knew she had some skills, but Maddie in the midfield controlled her well.”
“I definitely think Maddie was the best player on the field tonight,” added senior midfielder Katie Bonvicino. “She kept with [Girma] like nobody’s business. It was really nice for all of us because we depend on Maddie to be there.”
Ambelang was indeed available whenever her teammates needed her. If opponents were closing in on various Bruins with the ball, Ambelang seemed to be in the right spot offering a passing outlet. The junior was also strong defensively, clearing balls out of danger.
“I think I definitely played a good game,” responded Ambelang on her semifinal performance. “You just have to keep the people in front of you and defend well. I think we all did that really well as a team.”
While Santa Clara played a strong team game, it was Bonvicino who also stood out next to Ambelang. The Bruins were trailing 1-0 after conceding a goal in the 21st minute until Bonvicino notched the equalizer in the 60th minute after she was fouled in the box.
“You know what, I did not choose her,” admitted Comstock on Bonvicino taking the penalty kick. “But she stood up and screamed at me and I got to applaud that and [as a coach] you reward that. She buried two of them tonight which is very hard to do.”
“That’s crazy,” responded Ambelang on Bonvicino’s two PKs. “I know me personally, I would get so nervous. Katie is just such a solid player, you can always count on her to go out there and get the job done.”
Bonvicino looked as if she had nerves of steel on the game tying PK, striking it as if she was completely unfazed by the magnitude of the situation.
“I love PKs,” admitted Bonvicino with enthusiasm after the win. “I’m one of the only players that loves PKs, I always tell Brad, ‘I’m confident, I can do a PK, I’ll do it’. Today I just rose my hand, looked at him and yelled, ‘let me take it! Let me take it!’”
While Pioneer’s keeper only had to make a couple of tough saves in regulation, Santa Clara’s dominance possessing the ball made it feel as if it were only a matter of time before they would score. Admittedly, the foul on Bonvicino was a bit lucky (she wasn’t in a dangerous scoring position), but the Bruins were certainly carrying the play throughout the game.
After a scoreless overtime, the PKs against the Mustangs went down to the fifth and final round.
Santa Clara shot first as both sides scored on their first two attempts with relative ease. Bonvicino and Hannah Mathews converted for the Bruins in rounds one and two respectively.
Round three is where the drama really started to kick in. Santa Clara’s third shooter Haley Levene saw her shot go off the right post. Luckily for the Bruins the ball caromed off the inside of the post and into the goal. Levene immediately put her hands on her head in shocked relief.
“Oh my god, my heart literally stopped,” recalled Levene on seeing her shot bang off the post. “I was going for the right corner and I saw [the goalie] in the corner of my eye and I thought she was going to go the same way so I tried to like chip it a little bit. It went a little too wide, but hey it worked.”
The two teams would continue exchanging goals until the fifth and final round. After senior Ellie Mujushi scored for Santa Clara, Coelho would win the game with a diving save on Pioneer’s last shooter. Almost instantaneously as the save was made, all the Bruins jumped up and sprinted toward the goal to celebrate with their keeper.
In the championship game against Woodside, devastation struck early. After playing arguably her best game of the season against Pioneer, Ambelang suffered a gruesome ankle injury just eight minutes into the game (injury turned out to be a dislocated left ankle and fractured left fibula). The junior had just cleared the ball out of trouble, when her lower left leg got stepped on. A roughly 30-minute game delay ensued as paramedics ended up putting her leg in a brace before transporting her to the hospital in an ambulance.
About 15 minutes into the 30-minute delay, a loud “we love you Maddie!” cheer erupted from the stands. Ambelang responded by lifting her arm up with both a wave and a thumbs up acknowledging the crowd’s support.
“It was kind of hard to get back into it after that,” admitted Levene on re-starting the game after seeing her teammate go down and having a long delay. “We did really well [to start the game], had possession the whole time and were in their half the whole first eight minutes, but then a shock to have that injury happen. It kind of messes with you a little bit.”
“It was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve gone through as a coach,” noted Comstock on Ambelang’s injury. “Maddie is our heart and soul. I was worried, I didn’t know how the girls would respond. You lose a player like that to an injury, it could have gone south very quickly.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, things didn’t go south. They had their chances to win the game with grade-A scoring opportunities and when things broke down defensively, Coelho was there to literally save the game.
“Sam never ceases to amaze me or anyone, she’s amazing,” praised Bonvicino. “She always pulls out a really good save out of nowhere. She had a couple this game.”
Three notable saves for Coelho come to mind, the first was a full-extension dive on a shot from 14-yards out where she made the save at about the six-yard box. Another save was a shot from further out with a full-extension dive along her goal line where she deflected the ball away for a corner kick. And finally, on a broken play off a corner, Coelho tipped the ball up over the bar as it had been headed back on goal after a bit of a scramble in the box.
“It felt good,” admitted Coelho on making the big saves. “As a keeper if you don’t touch the ball, you feel like you’re not contributing. I knew I had to make those saves to keep us in the game.”
Both overtime and regulation would end in a scoreless tie as Santa Clara and Woodside were crowned co-champions of Division I. While most of the parents in the crowd weren’t aware of the possibility of co-champions beforehand, the Bruins players were aware of it before the game.
“Yeah we did,” responded Levene when asked if her and her teammates knew about a co-champion possibility. “I mean it’s better than losing, but it’s not the same feeling as winning, it’s kind of hard to deal with.”
Santa Clara Bruins soccer: co-champions, but champions nonetheless.