Before every “fairy tale” ending is an unlikely beginning.
A global pandemic delayed Jasara Gillette’s first season as the Buchanan girls’ soccer head coach. She inherited a roster with five seniors and a bevy of sophomores and juniors, meaning her lineup started more underclassmen than upperclassmen. She viewed the 2021 season as a building block for the future.
On Saturday, the future arrived early.
Buchanan scored three goals in the second half to defeat Cathedral Catholic, winning the Division-II Southern California regional girls’ soccer championship, 4-1. It is the first regional championship in program history.
“We knew early on that we were young and that we were going to build, so ending here is the fairy tale we wanted,” Gillette said. “These girls have been through so much with COVID, with not being able to play soccer… for them to come back out to have this season and have our seniors end on a win, very few people get to leave high school as a champion.”
From not knowing if they were going to have a season, to hoisting a CIF state regional championship plaque, Buchanan’s players rode the highest of highs after experiencing the depth of some lows.
“It’s pretty unbelievable because we’ve been training since last June, for over a year now,” said junior Logan Nidy. “We came out every single day in hopes of a season, and then when we finally got word, we worked our butts off all year and this is definitely rewarding.”
Nidy scored Buchanan’s first goal in the 10th minute, breaking loose on the right side and taking the goalkeeper one-on-one before slicing a shot past her. Nidy tied the match, 1-1, after Cathedral Catholic scored quickly in the 6th minute.
Buchanan took the lead in the 46th minute when San Jose State-bound senior Taylor Phillips unloaded a left-footed shot that found the upper-left corner of the net.
“Jasara was on me in the first half,” Phillips said. “I needed to pick it up, and all of the coaches told me to just go out and score. I did and it felt great. It picked up momentum for the team and the girls killed it.”
Buchanan constantly pushed the ball up the field, resulting in two more goals. Dakota Watterson scored shortly after Phillips to extend Buchanan’s lead, 3-1, and Nidy scored her second goal in the 76th minute on a close-range follow-up after a save.
When the final whistle blew, Buchanan’s bench spilled onto the field, forming a dogpile in front of its net. Gillette hugged her assistant coaches as they congratulated each other on an accomplishment never done before in Buchanan’s history.
A soccer ball that reads “SoCal regional champions” will be added to the east wall of the Bears’ soccer field for the first time.
It’s not the only state regional championship ever won by a Clovis Unified school. Last year, Clovis High won the Division-II Northern California regional title at Lamonica Stadium.
Central California soccer is putting the rest of the state on notice.
“With Clovis winning last year and then us, and even when you start looking at our outlying schools, there’s so much talent in our area,” Gillette said. “I’ve seen it over the past three or four years where coaches are starting to take notice that the Fresno/Clovis area is a powerhouse.”
Buchanan will play a role in maintaining the Central Valley’s reputation, as they’re expected to field another strong team next season with several returning starters.
For now, the Bears are enjoying their “fairy tale” ending.
“It felt like there was no hope, no season and now look at us,” Phillips said. “All our work paid off, and it’s really due to Jasara and her coaches. They really made this program into something special.”