For this year’s regular-season finale, Independence’s girls soccer team left no doubt that it would be the South Yosemite League champion.
In fact, the Falcons, who lost a de facto championship game last year to East and didn’t get the help they needed for a league title the year before, had already sewed up the SYL title before Wednesday night’s game at West.
For good measure, the Falcons hammered West 4-0 to conclude an unbeaten, nearly unchallenged run through the league. Senior defender Kassandra Figueroa put Independence on the board just before halftime, and senior midfielder Michelle Vargas scored two second-half goals. Sophomore forward Kylee Billington also scored her team-leading 17th goal.
“It feels so good, being a senior, to finish strong and be undefeated,” defender Cameron Jimenez said.
It was fitting that Independence (19-4, 10-0 SYL) finished with a shutout: The Falcons have 14 clean sheets this season, including six of their 10 league games. Credit is due to four senior defensive backs — Jimenez, Figueroa, Domonique Olivares and Breana Garza, three of whom are the team’s captains — and senior goalkeeper Kayla Koerner.
“We know each other, we know what to look for and who’s going to be where,” said Jimenez, who nonetheless said she’s “constantly talking. But it’s respectful. We all respect each other because we all know each other.”
The season has not been without its struggles. A.J. Jacinto, who had coached the Falcons for the previous four seasons, moved to Oregon and the new coach, Abel Pedro, left after two games this year for undisclosed reasons.
Up stepped Travis Mitchell, who had coached the junior varsity under Jacinto and moved seamlessly onto the varsity sideline.
“I tried not to change too much,” Mitchell said. “This is a talented group, and we just wanted to keep winning soccer games. I just wanted to encourage them more than anything.”
Twice in league play the Falcons were threatened: Once in a 3-2 victory against Ridgeview on a muddy field and once against nemesis East, the two-time defending league champions.
In that game, at East, Independence went down to 10 players because of an early red card in a scoreless game. Still, the Falcons found a way to control possession, score a goal and win 1-0.
“It comes down to communication,” Vargas said. “We attack as much as we can and keep the pressure on. This year we just have a team with nothing missing.”
Independence likely will receive the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Division III section playoffs, where there is more unfinished business to attend to: East took out the Falcons in overtime in last year’s semifinals.
If the league season is any indication, Independence might well improve on that result.
“We’ve very close,” Vargas said. “I consider these girls my best friends, on and off the field. And in the playoffs, we want to end this the right way. We want it bad.”