Soccer fans couldn’t have asked for a better matchup Monday evening as the Fremont Firebirds celebrated their senior night. After playing to a 0-0 draw earlier in the season, Fremont faced off again with Monta Vista and the rematch was just as hotly contested. Fremont would end up on the losing end of a 2-1 score, but one could argue they had the better of the chances.
Sophomores Olivia Ireland and Misaki Kaneko were the standouts for the Firebirds. Ireland scored a 1-1 equalizer on a nice feed from Kaneko in the 60th minute. However, it wasn’t just the goal they teamed up on. Ireland had a handful of other dynamite scoring chances, as did Kaneko who sprung loose on the right wing for multiple quality looks at goal.
“We were really lucky last year to get a pretty good freshman squad,” said Fremont Head Coach Payam Hajjarian when asked about Ireland and Kaneko. “Between the two of them, Kaya Mitchem up top and Julia Ly in goal, we definitely have pretty good players from that class.”
Players from this year’s senior class that the Firebirds will be losing to graduation are sisters Bridget Waelty and Natalie Waelty, as well as Janelle Banholzer and Jennie Soto. Against Monta Vista, both Waelty sisters were right in the mix of the action, most notably when Bridget chased down a defender streaking down the sideline for about 40 yards. Perhaps her height and strength at 5’7” did her a disservice on the play as the refs gave her a yellow card on what appeared to be a clean tackle.
“I didn’t really understand [why I got a yellow],” chuckled the senior midfielder. “I’ve been playing club since I was 14 and I’ve made plays like that many, many times. At most I would maybe get a foul. On this play, though, I was definitely ahead of her and I kicked the ball out of bounds. She then went to kick the ball and kicked my foot and then took the fall, which was smart on her end.”
Despite the loss and the tough officiating, both sisters expressed their gratitude that they were able to have such a fun season. As of this writing, the Firebirds league record stands at 6-3-2 with one more game on the schedule. Yet just three months ago it was unclear if there would even be any season at all.
“This time where we can’t see people, can’t go to school, being on a soccer team has been amazing,” said Natalie Waelty. “This was the only way we can see people in person is through sports. Being a senior, it sucks not being able to see people, but being on a team was incredibly fulfilling and just really satisfying to be with people.”
“Oh yeah, big time,” responded Bridget Waelty on the excitement level of having a senior season that had been in doubt due to the pandemic. “Starting off our senior year online definitely sucked, not having the opportunity to go to football games or homecoming. But given this chance to play our last year, I’m super grateful. And the coaches have made it super worthwhile, which I really appreciate. They put it in as much time as they possibly could.”