Lady Corsairs Start Campaign in Strong Form
At the end of the first week of play, the team felt confident as their record now stands at 1-0-1. Santa Monica College displayed outstanding effort in each contest versus the visitors at Santa Monica Airport Park at 3171 S. Bundy Drive.
On Wednesday in the first game of the year against Taft, the lady Corsairs came out with tons of energy that lasted throughout the entire contest. However, the ladies of Taft matched that effort leading to a very rapid paced game. Both squads exchanged fast passes, dazzling moves by their team's forwards and many shots on goal.
Taft had excellent passing, however, it caused little damage. SMC's defense kept Taft's attack in check seemingly all game long. The goal by Taft's Cynthia Vasquez in the 31st, the defense had no downside. Taft was met by the physical back four of the lady Corsairs nearly every progression forward and while setting up in the midfield. The defense quickly cleared balls in the box or turned them into a fast break for the attack. The defense's physical play set the tone for the game early and showed itself as a major strength for the squad.
Corsairs defender Jenilee Pabro has been very impressive and one of the many bright spots for the back four and the squad. Yet, to put one to goal the sophomore's play has been quite impressive. The Royal High alumni has thrived in head coach Aaron Benditson's system and alongside freshman Crystal Martinez has anchored a loyal and physical back line while also assisting the midfield in the attack.
SMC's lone mistake came on the score by Vasquez in the 31st on a fast break. The defense caught up to break by the Taft attacker but could not recover and control the ball after a great hustling tackle by Pabro. The sliding tackle in the box by the sophomore initially prevented Vasquez from scoring, but the ball somehow stayed in play right in front of the goal.
Neither SMC defenders or goalkeeper Sarah McElroy could get to the ball in time after the brilliant tackle. Vasquez quickly pulled the ball back to her feet and with a Messi like patience placed the perfectly soft curved shot around Pabro, past another defender and McElroy for the first score of the game.
Besides Taft's first score of the game, McElroy was on top of her game the whole match. Saving short shots, long shots and the super long shots well outside the box Taft's defenders and midfielders would occasionally try. After the Vasquez score, she was shutdown. She made most of her saves look too easy. The freshman kept her team in the hunt for victory or draw with her solid plays and saves.
Forward Jessica Rangel showed tremendous effort much of the first half and in the later minutes of the second. At one point, the freshman seemed to be everywhere the Lady Corsairs needed her to be. Despite many impressive touches, she was unable to convert, but kept her surge and the pressure on the Taft defense, creating opportunity to score for her and teammates.
In the first half, Rangel nearly tied it for SMC on a shot that barely missed going in the net. After a dazzling scramble from the midfield that included jukes of two Taft defenders and the goalie in the box, her shot went just a tad high, hitting the crossbar, floating over and out for a goal kick. After the conclusion of that play, Taft's goalkeeper laid on the ground in pain and in need of medical attention. Seconds later she would leave the game, walking off the field on her own with an unknown injury. Replaced by a another goalie the starter didn't return.
Even with a much smaller and reserved tender in charge of blocking their chances, SMC still struggled to convert. However, the struggles were not due to a lack of effort. The Lady Corsairs showed tons of it thoughout the game.
Despite playing with a slightly injured knee, that occurred following two collisions with both of Taft's starting and replacement tenders, forward Lauren Klibingat played with no fear. The Hamilton High School alumni hid her knee's discomfort well. She displayed a true soccer player's desire, showed no signs of injury or fatigue, while living up to all expectations wearing the high profile number 10 brings.
The sophomore was all over the place with her creativity, covering lots of ground for her squad. Helping to spread and balance out the once cluster and one-sided attack, opening passing lanes and causing the Taft back four to stress coverage rather than attacking. "I go when they go," said Klibingat, when asked what fueled her passion. She really got SMC going late and was one of the key lead to Taft's late second half fatigue and late tying goal.
With so many chances and shots on goal, SMC almost seemed destined to score. Finally, almost near stoppage time persecution became reality. Forward Jennifer Hager, who was on fire much of the whole game and then smoking hot in the last 45. She gave SMC the lifeline they needed to pull out a draw from their quality effort. For her display of passion, she was rewarded by scoring the tying goal in thrilling fashion in the 85th minute. She scored on an amazing shot far outside the box.
The long high slicing shot floated right over the head of the helpless and confused Taft goalkeeper and just under the crossbar. The goalie had move a bit forward from normal positioning in front of the posts, thinking the ball was cleared but instead landed at the feet of Hager. When asked how she knew she had that crazy shot she said, "I didn't. I just turned and shot."
On Friday's game against East Los Angeles College, the Lady Corsairs continued the intense and passionate play they showed against their game with Taft on Wednesday. However, in this contest against East L.A. they stroked early rather then late. Once again, Hager found herself in the middle of the action.
She scored the game's first goal 10 minutes into the game. Then followed that score up with another in the 32nd minute to give the Lady Corsairs a 2-0 lead heading into half time. Both scores came in the box and while in action. This is contrast to her goal against Taft, thereby displaying the different ways the dangerous Hager can find the back of the net. This also gave the Calabasas High School alumni a team leading three goals.
SMC was not done with scoring against the already deflated team of East L.A. In the 79th of a corner kick, freshman midfielder Kelsea Rock scored her first goal of the year, giving SMC a 3-0 lead and all but ending any thought of a late comeback by East L.A. The shutout gave McElroy her first clean sheet of the year as well.
Coach Benditson was very pleased by SMC's effort in both games. He credited the "will to win" for his team's comeback after the draw against Taft.
Declaring that both results were "great to build on" and planned to improve by "keep stressing defense and solid consistency for a full 90 minutes."