“I’ve been here seven years and this is by far our hardest schedule,” commented Santa Clara Bruins Head Coach Brad Comstock after Wednesday’s 0-0 tie against Presentation. “We play [Presentation], Valley Christian and Branham, who was in the finals last year. I think every team we play, except one, was in CCS last year.”
Santa Clara’s girls varsity squad (ranked 182nd in California last season) won their opening match of the season 4-1 at Scotts Valley (ranked 354th) on Dec. 3, but their performances this past week were more impressive. Santa Clara played toe-to-toe with two strong opponents in Presentation (51st) and Bullard (128th).
On Wednesday, the Bruins more than held their own against Presentation. Santa Clara received strong performances from seniors Ellie Mujushi and Haley Levene. When the Panthers did get their opportunities towards goal, Santa Clara keeper Samantha Coehlo came up with a number of impressive saves.
“Better than I thought,” commented Comstock on the Presentation game. “Anytime you play a West Catholic league team [it’s tough]. We hung with them and had our opportunities, they are a good team over there, I thought we did well today.”
Mujushi, who also played volleyball for Santa Clara, stands at 6’0″ and is easily the Bruins’ top offensive weapon. The Bruins’ best chance of the night against Presentation was a scramble just outside the six-yard box where Mujushi was able to get a shot away, but banged it off the crossbar.
In the second-half, it was Levene‘s sweeper-like instincts that came into play on the back line as she admirably defended a number of one-on-one situations.
“Haley has done that for four years for me now,” complimented her coach. “She’s the heart of the defense.”
“I love Haley, she’s my best friend on the team,” commented Mujushi. “She’s really fast in the back so she’s able to get a lot of those balls cleared out. I like that she’s able to take charge and control our back line.”
A few days later on Saturday, the Bruins would host the Bullard High School Knights out of Fresno. While the Bruins would lose by a 2-1 final, they arguably deserved a better fate.
The game started out a bit slow in a rain drenched field, but Santa Clara would open the scoring shortly after losing senior midfielder Gabriella Medina to injury. Medina appeared to injure her ankle and had to be carried off, she would not return. Just a few minutes later though, junior midfielder Maddie Amberlang found herself free just outside the 18-yard box and fired a nice low shot into the corner for the 1-0 lead.
From that point on, with about 15-20 minutes left in the first half, the Knights would start to take over possession leading to their two goals. The first of which came off a short corner kick that eventually made its way to the box and landed on an open Bullard player’s foot for an easy goal from about 15-yards away.
A few minutes later, Levene would do a terrific job defending a near breakaway chance despite being grabbed and held by her opponent. There was no foul called on the play and on the ensuing corner, Bullard would finish off the cross to take a 2-1 lead. The Santa Clara sideline was certainly besides themselves on the lack of a call on the Bullard forward, leading to the corner-kick opportunity.
“She grabbed her, she kicked her on the follow through, it wasn’t pretty,” commented coach Comstock on the missed foul call.
“She kept grabbing me,” echoed Levene. “She grabbed my jersey and I couldn’t move, and the ref said he almost called a PK on me. I was quite frustrated [about that sequence].”
The officiating on Saturday was wildly inconsistent. Levene didn’t get the call in that situation when she was essentially mugged trying to defend a dangerous scoring chance. Earlier in the game Mujushi held her ground shielding the ball at midfield, but she got called for a foul simply because she was physically bigger and stronger than her opponent.
While Comstock was not pleased with his squad’s performance overall against Bullard, it was his second-half tactical adjustment that turned possession back to the Bruins favor. With Santa Clara not generating much in the midfield, Comstock dropped Mujushi back into more of an attacking-midfield role instead of a traditional No. 9 striker. The move allowed Mujushi, arguably the Bruins’ best player to get far more touches on the ball. While Mujushi wouldn’t take advantage with a tying goal, she had numerous close chances including a shot from just outside the 18 that cleared the crossbar by maybe six inches.
“We started getting it upfield more,” recalled Levene after the tactical change. “We had more goal-scoring opportunities when we did that, we almost got one at the end.”
The Bruins ended up with at least a half-dozen quality looks at goal to tie the score in the second-half, but couldn’t convert any of them into the back of the net. While it appeared like a strong finish to the game possession wise, the head coach wasn’t going to let his team off the hook.
“I don’t think we came out with the same intensity that we had against Presentation on Wednesday” surmised coach Comstock on the loss. “We just didn’t have it today, we didn’t play our best game by any means. Not a passing grade from my perspective.”