Ray of sunshine paves way for Buchanan girls’ soccer championship

By Paul Meadors

From cloudy to downpour to sunshine, Mother Nature unleashed her full gamut of weather on the girls’ Division 1 Valley championship game. And it wasn’t until a laser from Buchanan senior Cricket Swinney in the second overtime did the pressure melt away like fresh snow, propelling the Bears to a 1-0 victory and a fourth consecutive Valley title.

After battling to a 0-0 tie for 103 minutes against TRAC rival Clovis North (16-5-6), Swinney hammered home the game winner off a headed pass from Christina Monreal, setting off a wild celebration on the field for the No. 1 seeded Bears (18-3-5).

With the sun’s rays beaming down, Swinney saw the light. And she wasn’t about to let her shining moment pass her by.

“When the ball was coming, I saw the far post and I knew I had to get it in,” said Swinney, birth name Samantha. “Everything went so fast.”

For fourth year coach Orlando Ramirez, he’s now a perfect four for four in Valley titles. Not too shabby for the young 30-year-old, who played collegiately at Fresno Pacific and professionally in the MLS. But don’t let his calm demeanor fool you; he was a nervous wreck during the match.

“It was as stressful a game as it could have been,” said Ramirez. “It was relief for me after Cricket’s goal. Hats off to Clovis North, they came out with the right game plan. We knew it was going to take one opportunity. It just takes one.”

And that “one” eluded Clovis North all game, and seemingly all year against Buchanan. In TRAC play, they glugged it out to a 0-0 tie and a 1-0 Bears victory. In this, their final match-up, the Broncos actually controlled possession throughout the game, but had trouble breaking through against the Bears vaulted defense.

In a season of comebacks and timely goals, Buchanan continually showed perseverance with a proverbial target on their back. For example, in the semi-final game against Frontier of Bakersfield, it took a Swinney goal off star senior Caitlyn Kreutz’s miss to tie the game 2-2 and finally, a Yamilet Biggers’ go-ahead goal to stave off elimination.

What else can be said about a group of seniors who won a Valley title in every season? Coach Ramirez saw early that this was a special group indeed. “We knew there was skill, talent and heart in this group,” said Ramirez. “The leadership that they showed, losing two starters to ACL injuries (Taylor Ehresman and Alyssa Damian) and to still be able to do what we did was unbelievable. What they did was unprecedented.”

Swinney’s moment is truly the stuff of legends and a moment she’ll cherish forever. “It was definitely the highlight of my high school career,” said Swinney with a smile brighter than a ray of sunshine.