When first-year coach Alex Rangel and the Canyon del Oro girls soccer team took the field for their opening game against Ironwood Ridge in the Brandon Bean Kickoff Classic, the Dorados weren’t exactly prepared.
The entirely new backline had yet to scrimmage together, and Rangel admits he didn’t know every girl’s name after walking into the situation blind.
The 5-0 loss, then, wasn’t all that surprising. Neither was the 1-0 loss to Sierra Vista Buena the following day.
Since the ugly start, though, Canyon del Oro
(8-2-2) has not lost again. And after a narrow 1-0 victory over Salpointe Catholic (5-7-2) in the Grove Invitational final Saturday night, Rangel feels the team is finally coming into its own.
“Right now I compare them to little roses blossoming,” said Rangel, who graduated from Flowing Wells in 2007 and played soccer at Pima before going to Columbia College. “It started pretty bad. … Now we’re getting our chemistry, we’re getting our swagger.”
The revamped Canyon del Oro defense allowed just three goals in the invitational at Walden Grove, and the Dorados have outscored opponents 39-8 since the Buena loss.
“We got our heads on, we realized that we want to win,” said center-back Jayme Pribula. “We want to go to state this year.”
The junior was named the tournament MVP, thanks in part to her goal-saving clearance in Saturday’s final after a Salpointe shot made it past senior goalkeeper Claire Keepers midway through the second half.
Both Pribula and junior forward Destiny Jones pointed toward the team finally bonding together as a main reason for the turnaround, especially after a 6-12-1 finish last season.
“We have better team chemistry” now, Jones said. “We do things as a team rather than in cliques.”
The jelling has been most apparent defensively, as the unit has gone from inexperienced starters to the identity of the team in just 12 games.
“We’re very defensive-minded and defensively organized, most importantly,” Rangel said. “In order to win championships, you have to defend. And I think that showed” in this tournament.
Rangel’s philosophy is that if the team stays true to itself and strong in the back, it needs just one goal to win.
Fortunately for the Dorados, that goal came right out of the gate against Salpointe as forward Natalie Rudolph lofted a shot from the edge of the box over the outstretched arms of sophomore goalkeeper Paloma Mars in the fifth minute.
The Lancers were able to create several chances, including a breakaway by captain Daniela Lopez with 30 seconds left in the match. The junior’s shot went wide left, though, and Canyon del Oro held on to win the first-ever Grove Invitational trophy.
The Dorados now have their eyes set on ending a two-year playoff drought, and with some hardware in hand, Rangel hopes the confidence can follow.
The tournament victory “just shows the potential that we have and what we can do in the regular season,” Rangel said.
In the boys championship, Catalina Foothills defeated host Walden Grove 2-0. Forward Rodrigo Cordeiro scored in the 59th minute to wrap up the scoring. The Falcons goalkeeper Galen Vincent was named the match’s MVP.