Los Angeles Times

Sonora opportunistic

COSTA MESA — Sonora Elementary proved at the Daily Pilot Cup that it's about quality, not quantity.

The fifth- and sixth-grade Newport Elementary girls had 10 shot attempts and four untouched crosses in the goal area.

Sonora had only four attempts, but two of them went in — including one in the last few possessions.

Minutes later, the 12-girl squad that sometimes started only nine players celebrated a 2-1 win at the Costa Mesa Farm Complex and became the silver division champion.

"Before every game, we ask them, 'What do you guys want to do today,'" Sonora Coach Cindy Mejia said. "They kept on saying, 'Win,' so we told them, 'Play like that. Play like you guys want to win.'"

In a three-minute stretch early in the first half, Newport Elementary had three close opportunities to score.

Sienna Ward dribbled across two defenders and centered a near-perfect ball that missed Taryn Anderson coming across by inches.

Anderson, again, almost converted on a pass from Marissa Cislaw, and another cross by Claire Johnson led to a deflection from Sonora's goalkeeper.

Second half was same song, different tune.

In another stretch, two corner kicks, one by Johnson's left foot and Cislaw's right, slid across the goal area with no luck.

Cislaw's kick connected with Ward's foot, but the ball bounced off the right crossbar for another corner kick that Johnson hit out of bounds.

"I think we had the possession, but we didn't get lucky," Newport Elementary Coach Candice Ward said. "They scored on their set plays, and we didn't score on ours."

Both of Sonora's goals came off corner kicks, but the first one tricked Newport Elementary.

Mejia said Sonora practiced a fake corner kick in practice where the kicker taps it to a wing player and taps it back.

Yartiza Garcia then hit a perfect banana kick that bended just inside the right-corner post for the game's first goal right before the referee blew the whistle.

"We never really thought it'd really work," Mejia said. "It's was more supposed to be center, but at the end it saved us."

For the second, and winning, goal, Garcia connected with Alejandra Guzman who kicked it into the left side with two minutes left.

Scarlett Zambrano, another Sonora coach, said Garcia also helped tremendously on defense.

"She really died out there for us today and gave her whole heart," Zambrano said.

Newport Elementary limited Sonora's counterattacks with solid play from defender Sarah Sheldon, who nearly scored on a quarter-field-long shot that went just over the top crossbar.

Newport Elementary's lone goal came off a Cislaw kick that dribbled into the left corner.

"We've been scoring all weekend and (today) we've met our match," Candace Ward said. "We've met our equal."

However, Sonora didn't see themselves as an equal to anyone at the Pilot Cup

"We've kept in our mind we could go to the championship, but we didn't think it could actually happen," Mejia said. Because of having only a 12-girl squad, "I felt like this was David vs. Goliath."

Zambrano added Gabriela Jaines played well throughout the tournament and said, "She's small, but mighty."

Candace Ward said Johnson did a great job on the wings, Niki Long and Emily Root played well, and her daughter, Sienna, and Cislaw scored the most goals this year.

"Six years I've been coming, first time as a coach and in the finals — and have my daughter in the finals," she said. "Oh, it was a gift."

Though Newport Elementary didn't have luck go its way Sunday, Candace Ward said she felt lucky to be able to coach the team she had.

"I didn't have soccer players," she said. "I had athletes with hearts."

Mejia said she didn't expect to win — let alone get to the championship game — as a first-year coach, but felt happy that Sonora won the championship.

Zambrano, a second-year coach, echoed Mejia's view and added she felt proud of the girls.

"They wanted to do this, they put all their hearts into it, and they got it," Zambrano said.

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