The No. 4-seeded Campo Verde girls soccer team stepped on to the pitch at Arcadia High School on Tuesday night with a collective confidence that it was bound for Friday’s Division III state tournament final.
Rosanne Headley’s squad had to get by top-seeded Verrado in the semifinal before any talk of a state title could ensue, and Campo Verde (22-2-1) played all 80 minutes with the type of swagger any championship-caliber team needs this time of year.
The third time was the ticket, as Campo Verde's possession game and some timely goaltending only expanded that swagger with a 1-0 victory over Verrado in Tuesday's semifinal.
It’s a swagger that dates back to April 2012, when Headley first interviewed for the head coaching job in the wake of the Coyotes' early tournament exits.
“The first thing my athletic director Renee Rigoli told me was ‘You’re going to win state this year,’” Headley recalled. “From the minute I took the job that was the only goal. These girls have been hungry since losing in the quarterfinals last year. We wanted this for awhile and now it’s almost here.”
Although Verrado had outscored opponents 33-0 over its last six matches, the Vipers (20-3) offense never had a chance to get going Tuesday night.
Campo Verde rather easily controlled possession in the first half, and although the Coyotes didn’t reap the rewards early, senior captain Shannon Costello capitalized when the first opportunity presented itself.
After junior Meg McDowell’s throw-in was tipped around by both teams, Costello corralled the loose ball from outside the box, and without hesitation, struck a laser past Verrado goaltender Shea Smith.
Costello’s goal in 38th minute was her 10th of the season and proved to be the difference in a match that favored defensive physicality much more than offensive chances.
“We’ve worked so hard the entire season,” Costello said. “The freshmen have been like seniors, they’ve been pushing us to get it together. We are just in it to win it at this point, and nothing else was going to be acceptable tonight.”
Campo Verde won’t have to travel for the Division III title game against Cottonwood Mingus on Friday. After Mingus won earlier Tuesday, the final match is set to take place on the Coyotes’ home field at 5 p.m.
For Verrado and coach David Hopkinson, 2013 painfully played out just as 2012 did. The Vipers were the higher-seeded team yet again, but when it matter most goals were hard to come by.
The team’s two most talented offensive threats, junior Kelly Smith and freshman Kaitlyn May, were man-marked throughout Tuesday’s match and the Coyotes’ back four never let up.
Freshman Stephanie Miller had Verrado’s best chance of the night in the 64th minute, but her curling shot from just outside the box was denied on a beautiful save by Coyotes goaltender Britney Cantino.
“Stephanie Miller] hit it well, maybe just a little more pace and it’s in,” Hopkinson said. “The keeper made a great save. Once that didn’t go in I thought maybe this is happening two years in a row.
“We lost our top two goal scorers during the middle of the season, and the schedule that we had allowed us to just outplay the other team. We didn’t face a ton of defensive juggernauts, and we didn’t play a team like this all year.”