There is no doubt what the Desert Vista girls soccer team is shooting for this season.
“All the way,” said Kelly Watson, who scored the game-winner on Friday. “We have a good chance of winning state this year – at least a good way to start the season.”
Desert Vista repeated as Tempe Diablos Soccer tournament title winners on Friday night at Tempe Sports Complex by holding off Highland, 2-1.
The Thunder reached the state semifinals two years in a row before losing in the final eight last season, but gave Highland its only loss of the year, in the Diablo final.
But it’s the Hawks who won the state title last year and has most of its squad back.
“We just learned that being the defending state champs, every team wants to come get us so we have to come out hard every game from the very beginning because every team is gunning for us,” said Highland captain Ashley Hatch.
While Desert Vista had much of the possession, particularly in the second half, it also had trouble finishing with an experienced back line for Highland in front of goalie Ashley March.
Finally, in the 71st minute, a Highland misstep allowed freshman Tatum Heeres to get the ball to Watson in the box. With a narrow window, Watson fired it past March to put the Thunder ahead.
That came after Rachel Ressler’s beautiful score in the first half. Ressler, in the 28th minute, got the ball just past the midfield line, dribbled into the box and scored from about 12 yards out, right over March’s head to give Desert Vista a 1-0 lead.
On Friday, the Hawks couldn’t seem to find the right head on the ball. They have a powerful weapon in Jaden DeGracie, but her impressive flip-style throw-ins only led to one goal – and an own goal at that. In the 63rd minute, her flip throw-in reached the goal and the referee ruled that Desert Vista goalkeeper Alexa Ryder touched it before it crossed the line, allowing Highland to tie the game at 1.
The Thunder hadn’t given up a goal all week in the tournament and routed Corona del Sol, 5-0, in Thursday’s semifinals. On Friday, Hatch tried to create some chances on the wing for the Hawks with limited success and DeGracie’s throws weren’t converted.
“We just didn’t execute what we wanted to execute,” Hatch said. “We had a lot of good chances for her throws but we just didn’t put them in the back of the net.”
Highland did get more than a dozen chances for DeGracie to use her throw, as Highland coach John Berzins had planned.
“It’s a very dangerous weapon,” he said. “A lot of what we do is based around creating those opportunities.”
It’s a challenge to defend.
“It’s really annoying,” Watson said. “We just set up and we practiced those a lot and it was worth it.”