SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Winning a state championship was a magnificent moment for the Sandia High School girls soccer team on Friday afternoon.
Winning it at the expense of La Cueva — with an interim coach at the helm, to boot? The Matadors understandably were thrilled about that as well.
“That’s the team we always want to beat,” Sandia senior Hannah Gallegos said. “And we did it when it mattered.”
After 120 grueling minutes of regulation and four overtimes, the second-seeded Matadors (17-4) were the calmer, sharper team in penalty kicks, outscoring the eighth-seeded Bears 4-2 in the shootout as Sandia won the Class 5A title, its first championship in this sport since 2008.
The game was 1-1 through the four OTs, with Lindsey Elison’s first-half goal for Sandia offset by Hannah Duffy’s 72nd-minute goal for La Cueva.
In PKs, Sandia sophomore goalkeeper Charlee Wimberly made a save in the first round. All four Matadors shooters found the net, and they clinched when La Cueva’s fourth shooter fired a shot over the crossbar.
“You know, the nice thing is, we’ve been working hard on our PKs over the last three weeks,” said Sandia’s interim head coach, Jay Sheraden, “knowing that there was a possibility it could come down to that.”
Penalty kicks only come into play for teams in New Mexico in tournaments. They are not used in regular-season games. This was the first shootout of the year for either team. And this showdown between former district rivals lasted nearly three hours, with clearly heavy legs — “jello,” was how one Sandia player described hers — on both sides into the third and fourth of the 10-minute OT sessions.
The two had drawn quite a large gathering at the complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo by the time they reached PKs.
Sandia’s four shooters — Kaitlin Mack, Sydney Groth, Gallegos and Carena Harrison — scored in penalties. La Cueva goalkeeper Emma Moore did get a piece of Groth’s attempt, but not enough to deflect it away.
“We’re so beyond excited,” said Gallegos.
“Everyone always believes La Cueva was the No. 1 team, and that no one could beat them, but we did it,” said Groth.
Elison’s goal came in the 29th minute. Harrison — who nearly combined with Groth for a goal only moments earlier, with Groth’s header sailing a foot or so over the crossbar — took a corner from the far side, and it rattled around in the box momentarily before ricocheting out to Elison. From there, she put it home, just inside the right post, from about 20 yards out.
Many of the players looked exhausted after it was over, including Elison.
“I think for us, we knew we had put so much effort into the season,” Elison said. “None of us were gonna let up.”
La Cueva (18-3-1) had beaten Sandia in last year’s 6A state quarterfinals. The Bears, who won state a year ago, also whipped the Matadors 4-1 during the regular season.
Sheraden became this team’s coach only three days before the season opener. But he led Sandia to a district championship and a No. 2 seed.
“I’m just incredibly proud of these girls,” he said. “I love them like they’re my own daughters.”
LA CUEVA 1, SANDIA 1
(Matadors win 4-2 in PKs)
La Cueva 0 1 0 — 1
Sandia 1 0 0 — 1
Scoring: S, 29th, Lindsey Elison; LC, 72nd, Hannah Duffy. PKs: Hayley Chavez and Taryn Robles had goals for La Cueva; Teagan Yan’s shot was saved; Deja Sandoval’s shot missed high. … Kaitlin Mack, Sydney Groth, Hannah Gallegos and Carena Harrison had goals for Sandia. Shots on goal: LC 18; S 21. Saves: LC, Emma Moore 12; S, Charlee Wimberly 16. Corners: LC 2; S 4. Rec.: S 17-4; LC 18-3-1.