Where the boys’ squad suffered a final 15 minutes that went decidedly against them, the Lions’ girls’ team experienced the exact inverse in their first 15. Unfortunately, their fates were ultimately the same.
Last Tues., Nov. 5 Cottage Grove (8-7, 6-2) took on North Valley (12-2-2, 8-1-1) and, despite receiving two penalty kicks early in the first half, fell to the number-two ranked team in 4A girls’ soccer, 3-0, ending the Lions’ successful 2019 season on a less than satisfying note.
“It was a winnable game,” said head coach Reed Levings, frustrated that victory fell from their grasp, often by way of their own doing.
“Last season we went down to Hidden Valley and they just outright beat us. It was like, ‘I applaud you, you guys are the more skilled team,’ but it was beyond frustrating to know we were the better team [against North Valley] and we just didn’t have our composure at certain times.”
Senior Annie Gibson-Becker and juniors Chanel Leach and Sawyer Weybright were finding room early, leading to fouls and the fateful penalty kicks. The first was turned away by the North Valley goalie and the second sailed through the football goal posts behind the net.
The missed opportunities seemed to ruffle the Lions’ focus. They had multiple chances within the six-yard box, but failed to finish, opening the door for the Knights to score two quick goals just before halftime. They never looked back, scoring another goal for good measure in the second half.
“We had a few opportunities in the second half. We definitely had more scoring opportunities than they did, but we didn’t capitalize on them,” Levings said.
Nonetheless, when evaluating this team and its performance this fall, it is useful to take a wider lens on their recent run, particularly under Levings’ tutelage.
“[These seniors’] freshman year, the varsity team won, I think, one game all year. I think they scored a total of, I think, three or four goals. And that became their expectation in the first year I got here,” Levings said. However, for three years now, the tide is turning.
In 2016 Cottage Grove finished 1-7-2, last in Sky-Em League play. Levings took over in 2017, coaching the Lions to a fourth-place finish (out of six) in her inaugural year. 2018 then saw a rise to second in the league and the feat was matched this fall, an encouraging sign of growing consistency in the program.
“We’ve seen consistent improvement every year,” Levings added confidently.
The Lions will say goodbye to five seniors graduating in the class of 2020 - Katlyn Bachelder, Cameron Anderson, Annie Gibson-Becker, Payton Cameron and Jasmine Izucar - but will return many contributors from the ranks of the freshmen, sophomores and juniors including Leach, Weybright, goalkeeper Raina Herzog and perhaps some late bloomers that intrigued late in the season.
“One girl who stepped up during our last game, who shut down their best player was [so.] Teanna Child,” Levings said.
“I was just like, ‘Hey, you’re fast. I gotta have you back on defense. I know you’ve never played this position but you’ve gotta stop this girl,’ and she played probably 70 of the 80 minutes of that game and she shut her down.”
With the upward trajectory and a promising crop of players returning for next year, Levings has just as much reason for excitement as Vern Stewart on the boys’ side, or any Lions team for that matter.
After the conclusion of the regular season, Sky-Em coaches voted on All-League Honors and seven Lions were named. Weybright (jr.), Leach (jr.) and Anderson (sr.) made First Team All-League, Cameron (sr.) and Gibson-Becker (sr.) were named Second Team All-League and Herzog (jr.) and Meghan Hawley (fr.) received honorable mentions.