Last March the Santa Clara Bruins finished off a thrilling playoff run as CCS Champions. An exciting and emotional championship game ended in a 0-0 tie. Currently CCS soccer championship matches end with Co-Champions if still tied after two overtime periods. There are no penalty kicks.
“There were a lot of emotions with that game,” admitted Bruins Head Coach Brad Comstock at practice last week. “My wife and I went to dinner afterwards and she looked at me and she goes, ‘what’s wrong?’ and I said, ‘I just don’t feel like we won,’ and she’s like, ‘are you kidding me?’ and I go, ‘no, you tie something, it just doesn’t feel right,’ and she goes, ‘well I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I’m feeling very happy for you’ and I’m like ‘OK,’ and as soon as she said that, I’m sitting there and the bartender, manager or someone comes up and says ‘congratulations, I hear you guys just won CCS, so dinner is on me tonight.’
In addition to his wife Mary’s support and a free dinner, coach Comstock noted that the City of Santa Clara was also amazing with their congratulations.
“What really made it special is what the City did for us. Whether it was the school district making a nice thing for us, or what they did at the City. There was an event for our team where Mayor [Lisa] Gillmor talked about us at length. It was really nice. And then just people walking up to me at the grocery store and saying congratulations, I’ve been reading about your team. That part of it was really special.”
While the game ending in a tie was certainly part of the heightened emotions that night, the bigger emotional toll was because the Bruins lost standout midfielder Maddie Ambelang to a gruesome injury less than 10 minutes into the game. It turned out she suffered a dislocated ankle and was eventually taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
“We were doing really well early, but then right off the bat, seven minutes in, I was going back to play the ball to one of my defenders and this girl just came in and kicked my foot,” recalled Ambelang. “I just remember falling down and I knew something was off, I took a step and then stumbled down. I looked at my foot and my leg was going one way and my foot was just kind of hanging off…Thankfully I couldn’t really feel anything since there was so much adrenaline going on.”
According to Ambelang there was also some significant ligament damage and that full recovery took about three months. As for this season, coach Comstock says Ambelang is back to her normal self and won’t have any limitations as she attempts to lead a much younger team during her senior year. Santa Clara had six senior starters from last season graduate, including leading goal scorer Ellie Mujushi; goalkeeper Samantha Coelho; attacking midfielder Katie Bonvicino; and defenders Haley Levene, Gabriella Medina and Megan Sequeira.
“It’s very different, going to take time to get used to all the new players,” acknowledged Frida Ramirez. Having been on varsity since they were freshman, Ambelang and Ramirez each played three years with the group of departing seniors from last season. “Last year, we were all a little bit more up to speed at this point. The way Brad wants us to play, we already knew how to do it. With new players we have to teach a lot of skills. But as captains we have to stay positive.”
“We have to help them develop and grow,” added Ambelang on the influx of youth. “This is going to be the team for the next four years.”
Despite losing so many key seniors from a year ago and having a couple of juniors no longer playing as seniors, coach Comstock does have a strong nucleus of experienced players to help guide this year’s squad. While Ambelang and Ramirez are two of the most notable returners, the Bruins still have a lot of talent who saw the field last year. That list includes senior defenders Ysela Baluyot and Samantha Galina, senior forward Zulley Lopez, junior forward Nicole Nunes and junior sparkplug Brooklyn DeGuzman.
The Bruins will kickoff their CCS title defense on Dec. 2 as they begin the non-league portion of the season. League play will start in January.