Two minutes into the match, Live Oak High’s Karlie Lema outran the Sobrato High defense and unleashed a powerful shot on goal. Even though Bulldogs goalkeeper Holly Rottenborn made a nice save, Lema was only getting started. The sophomore forward struck in the 17th minute, and Andrea Gonzalez scored the insurance goal midway through the second half to propel the Acorns to a 2-0 win over their crosstown rival in a Jan. 22 Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division match.
“These type of games are not really great soccer,” Acorns coach Tony Vasquez said. “It’s a bunch of people yelling and feeding off the emotions, but a win is a win and that’s all that counts right now.”
Even though Live Oak enjoyed a sizeable 15-4 shots on goal advantage, Sobrato made the contest competitive by playing physical and nearly capitalizing the few times it put a shot on goal. The match featured hard fouls and feisty play befitting of two teams playing in an A-league.
Sobrato High needs something tbat Live Oak has—a goal scorer. That much was evident in this matchup, and yet Bulldogs coach Ted Thomas expressed pride in how the team has remained competitive this season despite losing some star power off last year’s squad.
“The girls are playing strong,” he said. “Defensively, we have it figured out. We need a goal scorer. The girls need to find a way to finish. We’ve been working on it and they’ve been improving, but that is our main problem, and you saw it tonight. That’s been the story for us.”
When Sobrato had the run of play, it was Olivia Adams who often set things in motion. The senior midfielder/forward held possession and made several nice passes and runs, opening up the field for the Bulldogs. Seniors Jessica Scannell and Nora Espinal were active and put a couple of strong shots on goal, with Scannell often flying down the right seam and creating scoring chances.
“Jessica is super feisty and likes to play physical, and we encourage that because, well, we’re trying to get on the score sheet,” Thomas said.
Mallory Wayman, a senior defender, has been the backbone of the team.
“We’ve been blessed to have her for four years,” Thomas said. “She is having a hell of a year, playing like an all-league defender. It’ll be a big hole to fill after she leaves.”
Thomas said sophomores Rylie Hauge and Caitlin Skurla have made a tremendous impact on the team, and the two will play a vital role in the next couple of years as the program looks to remain competitive in the Mount Hamilton. Sobrato entered the Live Oak match having four to five players as their leading goal scorer, with just one goal apiece.
Live Oak hasn’t had much issue putting the ball in the back of the net, with Lema having scored 21 goals entering the match. In the first half, if Lema had any daylight at all, she sprinted past defenders and went to the ball like a heat-seeking missile.
Her tally in the 17th minute came on a long ball that forced Rottenborn off her line and in the unenviable position of trying to beat Lema to the ball. It didn’t happen. After blowing by a defender, Lema easily sidestepped Rottenborn before tapping the ball in with her left foot for the game’s first score.
“Karlie obviously is amazing,” Acorns coach Tony Vasquez said. “She does things no one else can do. Every time we step out on the field, we have the best player on the field. Which is why I’m lucky, but also a blessing and a curse because the girls know that and they kick it to her like a thousand times, which is not soccer and not the way I usually coach. But sometimes it works and it worked for us tonight, so we’ll take it.”
Vasquez prefers to play a possession-type game; however, with a player of Lema’s caliber on the roster, he knows sometimes the best play is the long ball and allowing the team to take advantage of Lema’s incredible speed. Lema’s offensive prowess aside, the Acorns are not a one-trick pony.
Their defense has been rock solid for most of the season, with sophomore defenders Bethany Urrabazo and Isabella Fiorentino leading the charge. Another sophomore, Emma Courtney, has provided steady play at goalkeeper. Courtney is in her first season of playing goalkeeper and has done a solid job, producing a couple of nice saves against Sobrato.
None was more important than the effort she made in the 33rdminute, when a foul in the box gave Sobrato a penalty shot. Not only did Courtney block the penalty shot, she was more impressive in following that up with a diving save just seconds later as Sobrato unleashed a shot from close range for a rebound attempt.
“Emma has done an amazing job,” Vasquez said. “We bend but don’t break on defense. Everyone says Karlie, Karlie, Karlie, and deservedly so, but teams don’t score on us. Karlie doesn’t play defense; she only plays offense so our defense is solid back there. It’s good to have Bella and Bethany in the back because they’re solid. … Bella wasn’t actually going to play today because she twisted her ankle in the last game. But you could see her leadership and value to the team. Even though she’s not 100 percent, she can still do a lot of things out there for us.”
With a roster of seven sophomores, three juniors, one freshman and two seniors, Live Oak is set up nicely to challenge for the Mount Hamilton Division championship in the next couple of years. However, Vasquez said he expected the team to possibly challenge this season.
“I thought we were going to be a better team to be honest with you,” said Vasquez, whose team improved to 3-1-2 in division play with the victory. “We’re a young team, so this will be a good experience going forward.”
If Sobrato can ratchet up its offensive production, it will be downright formidable. The Bulldogs’ defense has been stout this season, especially in league play. Sobrato had not allowed more than one goal in a league game until Live Oak put two in. The second goal actually came off some miscommunication with Sobrato’s defense, allowing the freshman Gonzalez to alertly pounce on the ball in the penalty area and score.