San Ramon Valley High junior Grace Leer, who has orally committed to Cal, said something pretty astonishing in a matter-of-fact way following her team's come-from-behind 4-3 win over No. 1 seeded Foothill in sudden death overtime in the North Coast Section 3A championship game.
Leer scored her second goal of the match on a glancing backheader, more like a nick of the ponytail, in traffic to tie it 3-3 in the final seconds of stoppage time. SRV's Julia Schleimer had sent a 40-yard free kick into a crowd following a handball call. When Leer converged on the ball, she had an unbelievable decision to make: Try to head the ball against doctor's orders and risk further injury - she suffered a concussion last week in the Wolves' quarterfinal win over Granada - or play it safe and risk losing the championship.
An NCS title for the No. 2 seeded Wolves resided on her split-second decision.
She went for it, barrelling into the defense.
"(The ball) was going over my head and I just to tried to - I got a concussion last week and so it was hard for me not to head the ball, because I wasn't really allowed to, but I just tried to get in front of the girl and try to get something (on the ball), and I guess it might have flicked off me, but I thought it was somebody else," Leer said.
Leer also credited her coach, Mark Jones, with pumping up the deflated Wolves at halftime when they were down 2-0 after two Carlee Payne goals for Foothill.
"I give a lot (of the credit to) Mark Jones because he said he wasn't going to talk about the negatives at half but talk about things to get us ready for the second half, to come out strong, and I think we definitely did that (come out strong)," Leer said.
Really, SRV didn't really finds its attacking mojo until about the 65th minute, when the game kind of went crazy. Foothill had been in supreme command to that point.
SRV's Caitlin LaHonta scored in the 65th minute, then Payne quickly responded with her third goal to make it 3-1, a seeming backbreaker. But Allie Begin answered with a beautifully struck cross from the left that bounced over the Falcons goalkeeper Megan Leoni and into the goal. Leer appeared to tap it in, but the replay showed the goal belonged to Begin.
In sudden death, Begin broke Foothill's heart, scoring on a rebound after Allie Tao's low shot just got away from Leoni's grasp.
In the wake of the scintillating NCS 3A final, I'm left with some random observations:
TURN THOSE FROWNS AROUND: As a longtime former player, I've come to learn that if you play soccer long enough it will eventually break your heart. The journeys are great, but defeats in big games hurt forever. And so Foothill (21-1-0), as painful as No. 2 seems today, should hold its head high.
The Falcons were a brilliant side, and the seniors should cherish the fact that they won the first EBAL title of their careers - the school's first girls league soccer title in 15 years - captured the prestigious Tri-Valley Classic Early Invitational division and reached the NCS finals three times.
With all its crazy bounces and so little scoring, soccer is not a sport that caters to unbeaten, untied seasons, especially in the EBAL where many of Northern California's top female prospects reside. The only NCS girls team to reportedly run the table was Carondelet, which was 24-0-0 in 1998-99 and No. 1 in the nation.
MASTER MOTIVATOR: The Wolves, who finished 18-5-3, set a record with their fourth straight NCS 3A title (among a record six titles overall), and not once during the current run have they been the No. 1 seed. Jones credits his players for rising to the challenge, but he deserves props as a master motivator. Last year as the sixth seed, SRV beat Foothill in PKs in the final. In 2007 SRV was he fifth seed, and they were No. 3 in 2006.
SOMEONE WATCHING OVER THEM: San Ramon Valley could easily have lost to No. 7 Granada in the second round of NCS. On a rainy night, the Wolves trailed twice by a goal and lost Leer to a concussion, then in PKs the Mats had a victory on their foot and couldn't convert. Begin was the hero with a the winning PK and the tying goal late in regulation.
M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E: Yep, Jones promised the Wolves he would take them to Disneyland on his own dime for the second straight year if they won the title.
STOPPAGE TIME: In the SRV-Foothill final, everyone seemed a bit puzzled by the roughly four minutes of stoppage time allowed by the referee, but one keen observer, Monte Vista coach Greg Fish, noted that there were three yellow cards and four goals scored in the second half, which probably accounted for the added stoppage time. There were also delays caused by balls sent out of bounds.
Then again, what Foothill really needed to clinch the victory was to get to the ball first on the tying goal. Easier said than done with a Leer jet bearing down on you, I realize.
HONESTY THE BEST POLICY: Asked about the apparent goal by Foothill on a corner kick in the seventh minute that was wiped out after the referee consulted with his linesman, and the refreshingly candid Jones said (that from his angle) "I thought it was a goal."
Foothill did, too, which explains why one Falcons assistant coach was shown a red card.
FISH BOWS OUT: So long to Greg Fish, the good-guy Monte Vista coach, after 15 years at the helm. Fish's Mustangs won four straight EBAL titles before Foothill broke the string this winter season. Fish, who did a fine job this season guiding a young squad, was also a huge asset to the newspaper with his updated league standings and stats.
Final East Bay Girls Soccer Rankings
1. San Ramon Valley (18-5-3)
2. Foothill (21-1-0)
3. Castro Valley (21-4-1)
4. Carondelet (12-8-2)
5. Miramonte (14-0-1)
6. Clayton Valley (20-4-3)
7. (tie), Monte Vista (13-8-2)
7. (tie), Granada (18-9-2)
9. Amador Valley (12-10-3)
10. (tie), Bishop O'Dowd (15-5-5)
10. (tie), Liberty (20-2-2)
10. (tie), Northgate (18-3-4)
10. (tie) Campolindo (13-6-2)