By Liam McGlynn and Catherine Lomond, Staff Writers
// Basketball legend Micheal Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” For the women’s soccer team, their chemistry and soccer expertise not only led to a championship but historic results.
Powered by a special bond, the women’s soccer team capped its historic season with its first-ever North Coast Section (NCS) title and a deep run into the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Northern California playoffs.
Although the team powered through the regular season, they often struggled against Diablo Athletic League (DAL) competition. Despite their initial struggles, the Lady Dons found their groove and finished second in league with a 6-5-1 record behind Campolindo.
Many players think their success stemmed from their team’s close friendship. Having a supportive team and friendships between players strengthened the team’s ability to conquer its opponents on the field.
As a team captain, senior goalkeeper Kate Carter led the team in team bonding while also having the responsibility to motivate and lead the team on and off the field.
“I wanted each and every player to feel included and welcomed,” Carter said, “We have a good team chemistry which allowed us to win and lose together.”
Carter also mentions team bonding traditions during the season, such as team dinners and gift-giving.
“We went out to dinner almost every week. We also have a tradition called ‘Soccer Sisters’ where we are paired up with another girl, and we bring them presents before big games.” Carter said.
Senior Natasha Malinovsky also appreciates her team as players as well as friends and finds motivation through those close friendships
“We had a really great bond that allowed us to stay motivated and push through the exhaustion and pain to make sure we were not letting the next person on the team down,” Malinovsky said, “We kept each other’s heads up and never let negativity get to us.”
The players were also motivated and led by their coach, Nick Barbarino. In the past two seasons, Barbarino led the Lady Dons to an overall record of 29-12-8-an impressive .733 winning percentage.
“My goal was to create an environment where the girls came to have fun and work hard, and make practice something the players looked forward to attending,” Barbarino said.
Barbarino also appreciated his undaunted freshmen players, who contributed much to the team’s success.
“The freshmen came in with great attitudes, and the captains and seniors did a great job of making sure they were included in all activities, at practice, and at school,” Barbarino said.
Although the four freshmen had big shoes to fill, they proved themselves to the team and contributed significantly to the team’s successful season. Tatum Zuber led the team in scoring and always sees success as a unit
“Our determination and the fact we played for each other and not ourselves really pushed us to win,” Zuber said.
Zuber contributed many great goals, saves, and plays, but she claims it’s because of her team’s great support system. She recognizes the amazing team chemistry that pushed the team towards success.
“The seniors made sure all the freshmen felt welcomed and made sure they felt like part of the team, which all of us really appreciated. The team has been one of the best teams I have played on and gave me so many memories to look back at,” Zuber said.
This powerful chemistry and team leadership propelled the Dons to the second seed in the NCS Division III playoff bracket.
In the first round, the team squeaked by the 15-seed Analy 1-0 before cruising past Terra Linda and Petaluma en route to the championship game.
On Feb. 28, the team faced off with section powerhouse Branson at San Rafael High School.
Acalanes came out of the gates roaring early on. Twenty Five minutes in, Zuber fired a laser past Branson’s keeper as the Lady Dons drew first blood. By halftime, the score remained 1-0, with Zuber’s goal motivating the team towards victory.
For the majority of the second half of the game, the Branson players had possession of the ball, but the Lady Dons remained strong defensively and held their opponents scoreless. With fifteen minutes left on the clock, Branson’s winger slotted the ball past the goalie, tying the score to 1-1.
Following Branson’s goal, the two, ten minute overtime sessions arrived with relentless shots and blocks. While the Lady Dons held their own, by the end of the overtime sessions, the score remained 1-1.
After the overtime sessions, the teams played through two rounds of penalty kicks. With some great shots made, the score was tied at 3-3. Sudden death was rearing the corner, making tensions and pressures between teams rise.
During the seventh round, however, the lights went out as junior Aliye Wingate squared up for a shot.
After a five-minute delay, Wingate ripped a rocket into the back of the net, tying the shootout.
Through 13 rounds, the score was tied 9-9. After Branson missed its penalty kick, junior Olivia Parnell looked to clinch the game and championship.
“I was just trying to tune everyone out and just focus on the goal,” Parnell said. “I was really just trying to keep my nerves down and not psych myself out.”
In one swift motion, Parnell fired a bullet into the cage, clinching the team’s first section title in program history.
The team quickly became overjoyed as the team formed a dogpile with parents and fans rushing onto the field as well.
“It felt like one of the best moments of my life,” Wingate said. “All of our hard work paid off, and I won with the best people I could’ve asked for to be my teammates. It was the first time I’ve ever cried tears of joy.”
Following their championship victory, the Lady Dons, seeded fifth in the CIF Norcal Playoffs, defeated the four-seed Manteca 2-0 before falling to the eight-seed Burlingame 1-0.
Next year, Carter and senior Ivy Souza will continue their soccer careers at Chapman University.
Despite having 15 seniors leaving this year, the team looks forward to the future with a talented junior varsity (JV) squad joining the team next season.
In the end, the Lady Dons completed the best season in program history and won their first section title.
“The NCS title helped me realize the importance of hard work and teamwork and how those combined can result in victory,” Malinovsky said. “Winning made everything worth it and really made my Acalanes soccer experience rewarding.”