Jasara Gillette admits that, from time to time, she glances at the east wall of the Varsity Soccer Field. Soccer ball-shaped plaques adorn the wall, commemorating the league and section championships won by previous Buchanan girls’ soccer teams.
But the first-year Buchanan head coach has noticed what’s not on the wall.
“If you look over there,” Gillette said, pointing towards the plaques, “we don’t have any state finals.”
Buchanan took a big step towards changing that on Thursday, defeating Downey (Los Angeles) in dominant fashion, 5-1, in the Division-II Southern California regional girls’ soccer semifinal.
The No. 3 seed Bears will host No. 4 Cathedral Catholic in the state regional championship game on Saturday at 5:00 p.m.
“[Making the state final] means so much, because Fresno is usually underrated,” said senior Taylor Phillips. “The players are usually home-grown and not really noticed as much. Southern California is known for their powerhouse players, and here we are, just a team from Fresno. We’re going to make the most of it and try to win on Saturday.”
Buchanan has made the most of its second chance at capturing a championship, after falling 2-1 to Clovis North in the Central Section title game on May 29.
“Losing that game pushed us and showed us that we need to fight in some of these tough games,” Gillette said. “Now we understand what fighting means. It doesn’t always have to be a beautiful game. Sometimes, you have to fight and get gritty.”
That was the case on Tuesday, when Buchanan defeated Saugus in the regional first round match via penalty kicks, 3-3 (4-3). The Bears didn’t allow for any late-game suspense on Thursday, played one of their best games of the season amidst sweltering triple-digit heat.
“We like to say that the weather is our superpower right now,” Gillette said.
Megan Clenney and Logan Nidy scored goals in the 5th and 9th minute of the match, respectively, staking Buchanan to an early 2-0 lead.
“After the first 10 minutes,” said junior Catherine Nardella, “we were like ‘Okay, calm down, we got this.’”
Downey cut the lead in half in the 29th minute on a successful penalty kick from Valerie Vargas. Buchanan answered before halftime when Nidy lobbed a cross into the box and Olivia Koop scored a one-timer.
In the second half, Buchanan sealed the deal with a pair of goals in just a two-minute span. Nardella headed home a goal off a corner kick from Phillips, who scored immediately after.
Once Buchanan dispatched Downey and celebrated on the field, Phillips’ mind turned to another big event awaiting her that evening.
“We came out and gave it everything,” Phillips said, “and now I’m going to walk and get my diploma.”
Graduation ceremonies, coupled with the win, made for a memorable day for Phillips and the rest of Buchanan’s seniors.
On Saturday, they’ll look to add one more memory to the east wall of the Varsity Soccer Field.
Around the TRAC — Girls’ basketball scores:
Central Section Open Division semifinals:
Clovis West 91, Arroyo Grande 39
Clovis West top scorers: Etoyah Montgomery, 22 points. Nikki Tom, 20. Athena Tomlinson, 16.
Clovis 62, Caruthers 35
Clovis High top scorers: Devin Miller, 19 points. Megan Esler, 12 points. Genevieve Tamondong, 11 points
Championship game: No. 3 Clovis at No. 1 Clovis West, Thursday, June 13, 6:00 p.m.
Central Section Division-I first round:
No. 4 Bakersfield 64, No. 5 Clovis North 54