The schedule for the Red Mountain girls soccer team was front loaded with some of the state’s top programs.
It has led to a not-so-pretty overall record, but the dividends of playing high caliber opponents in the early portion of the season is paying off in the later stages as the Mountain Lions start to close in on the East Valley Region title.
Red Mountain scored two early goals and tacked on three late ones for a 6-2-win Tuesday over Mesa to remain undefeated in region play.
“We make sure we play the highest talent available,” Red Mountain coach Vincent Gallegos said. “I could stack my schedule and get a bunch of Ws, but it doesn’t prepare us for anything. I want to play the best because at the end of the day it is going to show us where we are and what we need to do to improve.”
Red Mountain (6-7-2, 3-0) has won three straight in region play by the combined score of 20-3.
With the said, he wasn’t happy with how the Mountain Lions played in the 30 minutes of game action, as Mesa was within 3-2 after Jenna Williams scored with 23 minutes remaining in the game.
The Mesa goal seemed to ignite Red Mountain’s competitive fire as the Mountain Lions scored three times to completely change the competitiveness of the game.
“We calmed down and played much better,” Gallegos said. “We sat them all down at halftime (leading 3-1) and asked why aren’t we playing the way we should be playing? They eventually settled down and played better the rest of the way.”
It started when freshman Jessie Boult broke left, got past the defender and took a shot directly at the Mesa goal for her second tally of the game and a 4-2 lead.
“There was only one player behind me, so I figured I’d try and go around her,” Boult said. “There was an open spot in the goal, so I took it.”
Red Mountain’s Emily Bailey scored twice in the final two minutes to put the game away and to remain the leader of the region with two league matches remaining.
“We have improved as a team and we are finally coming together,” Boult said. “We are communicating. Even in this game there was a big difference between the first half and second half. We were talking and working together.”
Red Mountain’s other goals were scored by Acacia Glenn and Kaci Tilghman.
Mesa, which had its first goal scored by Sandra Vendrick, fell to 5-10-2, but the Jackrabbits are hardly recognizable compared to years past.
It was enough to remain in the game against Red Mountain, which beat Mesa 7-0 a year ago.
The Jackrabbits came into season looking to be competitive after winning just once last season and twice the season before.
Mesa has adjusted to the loss of two key players – captain Ashley Goodman and Aracely Molina – to injury as Vendrick, Williams, Amanda Gard and others have stepped up in their absence.
So already having five wins on the season and staying within a goal – 3-2 in the second half against the region favorite – is major progress for a program has struggled to be relevant for years.
“It’s a great improvement,” third-year coach Brigette Tarwater said. “They wore us down a bit, but we were able to hang in there.
“We are trying to rebuild a program. We had to build trust in the first year and this year we’ve had some young players step in. This was a confidence booster, but we have to keep pushing through.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.