Western girls soccer coach Shoichi Sato was doubled over in joy. The team was storming the field, and the crowd was going bananas.
After beating Tech 2-1 in the Class 3A Southern Region championship Saturday at Bettye Wilson Park, the 2016 Warriors became the first team in program history to win a region championship.
It brought midfielder Kirsten Molina to tears.
“I want to pinch myself, I think I’m dreaming,” said the senior captain, who had an assist on Western’s first goal. “We worked so hard for this. I couldn’t have done it without my team. It was a team effort.”
As perfect as the ending felt for the Warriors (16-5-2), the beginning was anything but. They had trouble getting any early pressure and it was Tech that scored the game’s first goal.
When Veronica Gonzales was fouled just outside the 18-yard box, she had a clean look at the net on her free kick to make the game 1-0 in the 35th minute.
The Roadrunners (14-4-3) didn’t get to keep their lead for long. Western senior Ellyson Reynada led the team with 33 goals coming into the game and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before she got on the board. Two minutes into the second half, she did.
The Warriors were parked in front of the Tech net when Reynada took a pass from Molina and redirected it into the net to tie the game. She found space 11 minutes later after collecting a pass from Vanessa Margarito, drove down the right side of the field and took a shot on net that beat the keeper.
Just like that the Warriors were up 2-1.
“I had no doubt, even when we went down one goal,” Sato said. “These girls, they fight. They fight and fight and fight and you could totally see it out there today.”
Not only has Western never won a region title before, it had never been in the region title game. The Warriors have not been to the postseason since 2010 and have never played in the state tournament.
“This is all new to us,” Reynada said. “It’s crazy.”
Western is used to its season ending much sooner than this. So it’s new for the Warriors to go to practice the week after the region championship with a chance to win it all next weekend.
Western meets South Tahoe (California) in the state tournament at 6 p.m. Friday at Bettye Wilson Park.
Sato told the players after the game to be ready to work on Monday. But this weekend, they get to celebrate doing what no other Western team had ever done.
“I can’t put it into words,” Sato said. “They deserve it. It would be crushing if we didn’t get it.”