By Ray Hamill — It has been an historic season for a young Del Norte girls soccer team and the local community is taking notice.
On Wednesday night, the Del Norte girls got the program’s first-ever North Coast Section victory, 1-0 at Fort Bragg, moving them into the Division-1 quarterfinals, where they will face off against the top-seeded Eureka Loggers on Friday night.
It will be a tough task for a Warriors team that has no seniors and features mostly freshmen, but they’re not backing down from the challenge and are looking forward to the occasion.
“Right now, they have the mentality anything can happen,” head coach Cyndi Hansen said.
And so they should.
The Warriors are arguably the story of the season and have been on a roll since midway through the campaign.
After losing seven of their opening eight games, they are now unbeaten in eight straight and finished in a tie for second in the Little 4 while qualifying for what is believed to be their first-ever NCS appearance.
And they quickly showed they belong there with another brilliant defensive performance in the shutout win on the road against a higher seed.
The Warriors defense, in fact, has been playing at a remarkably high level in recent weeks, allowing just two goals in their last seven games, fewer than the Loggers.
This is a remarkable turnaround after they allowed fewer than two goals in a game just once in their opening eight games.
Hard work has been key to that turnaround.
“I feel like we’ve got this far because of our defense,” the head coach said. “And my midfield works hard to get back and help the defense and then pushes up when they have to.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Deja Payne also has been key and is a legitimate candidate for Little 4 MVP Goalkeeper.
“She is just fearless in goal,” the coach said of Payne, who has posted three straight clean sheets and five in her last seven appearances.
Remarkably she has saved two of the three penalty kicks she has faced this season, including a game-clinching stop at Fort Bragg on Wednesday.
According to longtime local Del Norte sports reporter Aaron Finley, he believes this is the first time a Del Norte girls team has reached the NCS playoffs since the program began playing as an all-girls team in 1995.
And the local community is taking notice, and the players are feeding off of that.
“They see the support and I think that helps,” said Hansen, who expressed her gratitude to the community for all the support they have shown the players. “Knowing they have the support of the community, they definitely feel that.
“They wanted to win that game. They wanted to make their mark.”
A switch to the Little 4 this season definitely helped the young team build some momentum and was exactly what was needed for a group of players that has very little travel team experience.
So too has the addition of Hansen, who has overseen the historic achievements in just her first year in charge and is a legitimate candidate for coach of the year.
As for the showdown on Friday night, the Del Norte players know they will have their hands full against an unbeaten and very experienced Loggers team that has dominated all season, but they are embracing the challenge.
After the long drive back to Crescent City on Thursday afternoon, it was the players who asked their coach if they could practice.
“They’re determined,” Hansen said, adding that “We’re just happy for the opportunity we get to be at this level right now, and we’re going to try and handle them as best we can.”
The game will be part of a Friday night doubleheader of NCS playoff action at Albee Stadium, with kickoff set for 7 p.m., after the Eureka and Fortuna boys play at 5 p.m.
Great read, the coach is very informative. Defense and the mids who combine to defend the back, and then build-up the attack. Young team.. absorb the game fundamentals, learn form and play together… lay it all out on the field, but be smart and tactical.
[“I feel like we’ve got this far because of our defense,” the head coach said. “And my midfield works hard to get back and help the defense and then pushes up when they have to.”]